Ruffin Page arrived at Raleigh Dental Arts in North Raleigh at 3 a.m. Friday, hoping to get some teeth pulled.
Page, 65, of Raleigh said he spent $2,000 last year to have some of his teeth extracted and to get a partial denture. This year, he needed some teeth pulled before the rest of his dentures were delivered.
He was first in line Friday to receive free dental care. Since opening 15 years ago, Raleigh Dental Arts has hosted three daylong events to offer free services to adults.
For patients like Page, there is often no choice but to seek free care. A disabled veteran, Page said he has medical insurance but no dental insurance.
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“If the government paid for it, I wouldn’t have to be in the free line,” he said.
Jorge Ramírez, 45, said he also lacks dental insurance and can’t afford to pay out of pocket.
Ramírez got to Raleigh Dental Arts around 6 a.m. Friday for a routine cleaning. He said he last got his teeth cleaned about four years ago, and it cost about $120 without insurance.
He also wanted a dentist to examine some teeth that he thought might need to be pulled.
“I need a lot of stuff, but it’s too expensive,” Ramírez said.
His wife, Crisanta Ramírez, also attended the event, hoping a dentist would pull a tooth that was causing her pain.
At Raleigh Dental Arts, an extraction can cost between $190 and $375 without insurance. For a first-time patient without insurance, a cleaning costs $368.
“There’s no question the need is there,” said Dr. Tarun Agarwal, a dentist at Raleigh Dental Arts. “Dentistry is surprisingly expensive.”
Agarwal and his team, which includes volunteer dentistry students from UNC-Chapel Hill, provide only basic services during the free events so they can treat as many patients as possible.
Agarwal planned the first free dental day three years ago as a way to give back to the community.
“We live in North Raleigh. It’s a relatively wealthy area, and I didn’t know there were so many people who needed our help,” he said.
Typically, the practice treats about 35 people a day. On free dental days, Agarwal’s team treats more than 100 people.
“The response our first year was unbelievable,” he said. “It reinforced the idea to me that people need it.”