A warm smile at the clinic

Published 9:07 pm Monday, March 2, 2015

To cover the free dental clinic at King’s Fork Middle School on Saturday, I got what for me was an early start.

With refrozen snow crunching beneath the tires as I backed out of the driveway a little after 7:30 a.m., I wondered how many would show up for The Virginia Dental Association Foundation’s Mission of Mercy event.

With so much snow and ice on the ground and a definite chill in the air, how many people would want to rise even earlier than I — the event started at 6:30 a.m. — to open their mouths for the dentist, I wondered.

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I thought briefly of the phone call I’d fielded the day before. The woman with a distinct New York accent, who’d presumably read one of our preview stories, seemingly couldn’t be convinced the clinic was going ahead despite the winter weather.

How many more of those were out there? Given the tendency for a few inches of snow to virtually shut Hampton Roads down, I couldn’t blame her for being leery.

I arrived at the middle school a half hour later and found the parking lot had been plowed and salt and sand spread on walkways. More important, the parking lot was full — I considered myself lucky to snag a space — and there was a steady stream of folks carefully walking to the building or hitching a ride in the courtesy golf cart.

There were different entrances for different groups. Inside the one I used — for folks who’d registered and medically screened the day before — large numbers were sitting in classrooms, split up by procedure: cleanings, fillings, extractions.

In the end, the cold weather did keep numbers down from organizers’ expectations. But Suffolk dentist Ralph Howell Jr. still seemed pretty satisfied, citing 550 patients and 500 volunteers in the building by 8:30 a.m.

For any reader who has not been exposed to a community dental clinic of the scale that occurred here on the weekend, it’s quite a sight to behold. The number of volunteers is nearly as great as the number of patients served, so there’s a vast sea of humanity.

You can chat with people waiting their turn and know they are truly grateful.

One raised a good point: We’re all about to get hit with some pretty high electricity bills, after record low temperatures and days at home instead of work or school. Ours arrived Saturday, and it was more than a little breathtaking.

The Mission of Mercy clinic will make for one less bill — though probably in most cases it’s a moot point, as without such a program, much-needed dental work, for many, just keeps getting put off.