Clinic serves hundreds
Published 7:29 pm Saturday, February 28, 2015
Retha Sellers became a proud and thankful recipient of three fillings this weekend.
She told her story from the bleachers in the King’s Fork Middle School gym, patiently awaiting her turn to sit in the dentist’s chair and open wide.
Her last dental appointment was two years ago. “Since I retired, I lost my dental insurance,” Sellers said.
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“This is the second time I tried to get to the free clinic. I made it this time. I’m here with my girlfriend – she had two teeth pulled.”
Suffolk dentist Ralph Howell, a key organizer, said The Virginia Dental Association Foundation’s Mission of Mercy clinic – in Suffolk at KFMS for the second year running – had 550 patients and 500 volunteers in the building by 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
Helping that process was the screening of 225 patients Friday afternoon, added clinic co-director Lauren Alphin, who gave special mention to The American Dental Association, Obici Health Care Foundation and Sentara for helping make it all possible.
Even at the early juncture (the clinic would run until 5 p.m.), it was nearly 100 more patients than the total number served in 2014. With 20 more chairs making 70 in total, folks were moving through and out with their smiles renewed at a faster rate.
“We opened the doors early, and we have them (waiting) in different hallways to accommodate the cold,” Howell said. “The cold has kept some people away. Last time we had to close the doors by 7:30 (a.m.).”
As well as cleanings, fillings and extractions, the clinic also provided a limited number of dentures. James Atkinson was lucky enough to emerge through the lottery process to receive a new set.
“This is wonderful. You don’t know how much it means to everyone here, I’m sure, especially with the high electricity bills that are going to be hitting,” said Nancy Atkinson, the wife.
“It does help. It really helps. We are senior citizens.”
Sharon Stull, a faculty member, said the 10 students she brought from Old Dominion University’s School of Dental Hygiene gained valuable field experience, working with licensed dental hygienists.
“More importantly, they gain awareness of the dental needs in our community,” Stull added.
A couple of former students who are now licensed professionals returned with her to the Suffolk event, which was her 17th Mission of Mercy, she said. “One of the student said, ‘I just can’t miss a MOM,’” she said. “It’s quite an event.”
Sameer Atrash, a pre-dental student at Virginia Commonwealth University, said seeing patients who might not regularly visit the dentist provided some interesting cases. “It’s a good day to give back,” he added.
T.M. Hunter, a patient there for two extractions, said getting up at 4 a.m. in the cold was “a little hectic.”
“But if you want something done, you’ve got to go and do it,” he said. “I applaud all the volunteers doing this dental work. I think it’s very, very good for them, and I appreciate it.”