Michael A. Sawyers
FAIRGO — The price of dental care was just right on Friday at the Allegany County Fairgrounds where 489 people were getting restorations, extractions and a variety of other procedures for free at the Western Maryland Mission of Mercy Dental Clinic.
The clinic continues Saturday beginning at 6 a.m.
“This is our third clinic,” said organizer Dr. Diane Romaine. Clinics in 2010 and 2011 and the current clinic will have treated about 2,200 patients and provided seven figures worth of care.
“It would cost me $2,000 if it wasn’t for this clinic,” said Adam Raines, Frostburg, referring to two partial plates he would receive. Raines was fitted for the job Friday and will return Saturday for the extractions. Raines said he has had pain for a long time.
Debra Lyles drove with friends from Laurel to attend the clinic.
“We got here about midnight and stayed in the car,” Lyles said. She had just had two teeth filled at about 1:30 p.m. and was on her way for an extraction. “I have had major sensitivity. This is a blessing,” Lyles said.
Anybody can come to the clinic.
“The majority are from Allegany County, but we have had them from 22 different counties in seven different states,” said Susan Stewart, director of the Western Maryland Health Education Center.
About 80 dentists volunteer for the clinic.
“We have a couple dentists who work all of both days, but most either work a morning or an evening,” Romaine said.
There are 48 dental chairs, 500 volunteers and an untold amount of floss.
Patients start the process with basic health screening then are seen in the dental triage area where their individual work is prioritized.
There were 125 patients pre-screened at Allegany College of Maryland and they were at the head of the line Friday.
Romaine extracted seven teeth from a woman who came from Baltimore. She said a man who had his wisdom teeth removed at the 2010 clinic when he was a student returned this year to volunteer.
Corporate sponsors and other information is available at the mission’s website westernmdmom.com.
Romaine believes the mission is having a positive impact on local teeth.
“The Western Maryland Health System keeps track of people who go to the emergency department because of teeth pain,” Romaine said. “Those visits have decreased by 16 percent since the missions began.”
The 2010 clinic was the first in Maryland, according to Romaine. “We are being looked at closely as a model for the rest of the state.”
Leigh Ryan, a University of Maryland dental student who hails from Syracuse, N.Y., was assisting Romaine. “I get as much out of this as the patients,” Ryan said. “We have had mostly classroom work so this is practical.”
Romaine said the turnout of local dentists has been outstanding.
Dr. William Tompkins has worked all three clinics. “It’s humbling,” Tompkins said, referring to the number of people who need dental work, but otherwise could not afford it. “One year I had a patient who fell asleep in the chair as I was treating him at 4 p.m. He hadn’t slept the night before.
“It is also a unique opportunity to work with other local dentists, who we don’t often see.”
Stewart of AHEC surveys patients before and after the clinic. She said it is not uncommon for a patient to tell her that they had not been to a dentist for 10 years.
Allegany County leads Maryland in natural tooth loss, according to the mission’s website. More than 20 percent of the population is considered to be in poverty. More than 15 percent of people have not been to a dentist in more than five years.
Contact Michael A. Sawyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.