Wineka column: Smiles overwhelm Salisbury’s two-day dental clinic
SALISBURY — It’s hard to imagine now, but by late tonight, Goodman Gymnasium will return to what it’s supposed to be — a gymnasium.
For the past two days, this Catawba College venue has resembled a massive MASH unit, filled with 80 dental stations and patients receiving free care for fillings, cleanings, extractions and partial plates.
Besides making the heart feel good, the clinic literally puts a smile on the nearly 1,000 people served and 800-plus volunteers — professionals, students and otherwise.
“It’s a remarkable spirit of caring,” said Nick Langdon, a volunteer from First Presbyterian Church. “You can almost feel it in the air.”
You know how people sometimes camp out for tickets to concerts, athletic contests or the latest smart phones. That seems pretty lame compared to folks who camp out for their teeth and the chance to attend one of these Missions of Mercy dental clinics, an outreach program of the N.C. Dental Society.
This is the first MOM Clinic ever held in Salisbury, and it’s been about three years in the making. The impetus came from Dr. Jim Dunkin of First Presbyterian Church and Salisbury dentist Dr. David Mayberry.
Then hundreds of people ended up jumping on board.
“This was our dream to get it here,” said a happy Debbie Hill, coordinator of the dental program at Salisbury Community Care Clinic. “Everybody has pitched in, one way or the other.”
Dunkin’s inspiration for the clinic came from his daughter Christina, a dental student at Virginia Commonwealth University. She had volunteered at previous MOM clinics, as had Mayberry.
“It’s wonderful they’re doing this,” Aundrea Hathaway said late Friday morning, waiting for a chair to open so a dentist could fill a couple of her teeth.
“It’s a blessing.”
Hathaway, who lives in Salisbury, acknowledged she often has panic attacks when and if she goes to the dentist, yet she obtained a number Thursday night and slept in her car near Catawba College’s Newman Park.
Early Friday morning, she was in line with hundreds of others going through the various stations until she reached a dentist on the gymnasium floor, which was covered completely in sturdy yellow plastic.
She could not afford a trip to a dentist, otherwise, Hathaway said.
“I don’t know for a fact,” she added, “but I heard there was someone (waiting) here Wednesday — a man from Raleigh.”
Paul Bowlin of Lenoir said he also secured a number and wristband Thursday night and was able to grab some sleep in his car before returning to the gymnasium entrance about 5 a.m. Friday.
This was the fourth time Bowlin has attended a Missions of Mercy dental clinic, but the first time he received a number allowing him to come back later and not have to camp out on a sidewalk.
“I wish other clinics would do that,” he says.
Bowlin praised the quality of care at the MOM clinics. “It’s been really good,” he said.
Salisbury dentist Dr. Jerry Rebrey tended to Priscilla Knox of Salisbury Friday morning. Knox required a tooth extraction and a realignment of her partial plate, all of which could be handled that morning.
Knox lives on Social Security income from a disability. She has no health or dental insurance. She has attended previous MOM clinics in Greensboro, Charlotte and western North Carolina, having work done on a crown and fillings, among other things.
Knox lives five minutes away from the Catawba College campus and rejoiced when she heard Salisbury was having its first MOM clinic.
“This means a lot,” Knox said. “It’s a blessing from the Lord. God gives you the door, and you have to walk through it.”
Rebrey was volunteering at his first clinic.
”It’s a nice opportunity to give back to the community,” Rebrey said. “... Everybody says ‘Thank you.’ Their appreciation — that really means a lot. It makes it all worthwhile.”
Krista Woolly, executive director at the Salisbury Community Care Clinic, put the volunteer count at 832 for the two days. That included 452 professionals such as dentists, dental assistants, hygienists, pharmacists and lab technicians and 380 community volunteers, mostly from eight downtown churches.
Salisbury alone had 31 dentists participating. The Old North State Dental Society, besides making a $20,000 donation to the Salisbury clinic, had 25 of its dentists volunteering over the two days.
A large contingent of dentists also came from Fayetteville.
It’s difficult to recognize adequately everyone who made the clinic possible. First, there’s the Dental Society, whose Missions of Mercy program is overseen by Dr. Bill Blaylock.
Since MOM was founded in 2003, it has held more than 200 clinics across the state, from the mountains to the coast.
Over that time, the program has provided more than $19 million in free dental care to 45,000-plus people.
The dental services are aimed at adults, 18 and over, with incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level guidelines. Families of four under these guidelines would have, for example, an annual income of $44,700 or less.
The people receiving care aren’t required to bring proof of income, but they do sign an income disclosure statement when they register.
The clients go through an arduous day — or more than that, if you count the overnight stays or having to come back the second day for partial plates.
After waiting in line, they go to registration, provide their health history, have their blood pressure checked, get an X-ray, go through a triage station where their dental needs are assessed, proceed to a patient waiting area, are called to a dental chair in the gymnasium and finally go through a patient checkout.
At each step, the volunteers are needed to keep things flowing. As someone said Friday, they’re giving up their time but not their hearts.
There’s also a pharmacy, which was fashioned out of Goodman Gymnasium’s concession stand; a sterilization area for cleaning up and returning dental instruments; a mobile X-ray lab; and a dental lab with an army of technicians working with crowns and plates.
“There’s a core of us who try to go to all of them,” lab technician John Sammon of Lenoir said. “You get a person who’s a volunteer — that’s a great person.”
Sammon went to 11 MOM clinics last year. A volunteer such as Sammon arrived Thursday to set up the lab in a gymnasium classroom and stays in Salisbury two nights — all at his own expense.
Arey Grady of Kinston coordinates the dental labs for each MOM event with the assistance of his wife, Mary Ann. Arey Grady praised the food prepared for volunteers by students from Livingstone’s culinary arts program.
The Livingstone students were preparing the food at First Presbyterian Church and trucking it over for a buffet on the Catawba campus.
Mary Ann Grady loves to show a note she received from the daughter of an adult served by a previous clinic. It says, “Thank you for fixing my mamma’s smile.”
Salisbury High School students chipped in Friday morning, too. About 18 students from an advanced placement anatomy and physiology class assisted in moving clients through the process.
At least three in the class, Ashanti Culbertson, Kate Grant and Charlotte Kaufmann, said they have given strong consideration to becoming dentists.
“I just like teeth,” Culbertson said.
Earlier in the week, the students heard from a dental hygienist about the importance of dental care, from as early an age as 1. Poor dental health can have direct links to heart attacks, diabetes and stroke, they said.
Salisbury High Spanish teacher Lariza Turner brought 25 students from her honors 3 and 4 and Spanish 2 classes to serve as translators for some of the clients. Students Blanca Hernandez, Yesenia Garcia and Luis Diaz said they found it easy to communicate and were given direction on some of the dental terms they would be using.
“We feel like we’re helping people,” Turner said. “It’s been an amazing experience, helping the community.”
The gymnasium was full of dental all-stars in Rowan County and the state of North Carolina as a whole. Deborah Krueger of Salisbury received the Registered Dental Hygienists’ Award of Distinction in 2003. Only eight of those awards are given out annually in the nation.
Krueger is a public health dental hygienist who works in the schools.
Laura Arey Cuthbertson of Charlotte won the RDH Award of Distinction this year. She also helped at the Salisbury clinic Friday.
Patricia Poole, hygienist and adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will have UNC students assisting at the clinic today.
Poole has done groundbreaking work in training nursing home workers how to provide dental care to Alzheimer residents.
Dr. Sandra Boyd drives to the Salisbury Community Care Clinic every other week to provide dental care. She was one of the dentists volunteering at the MOM clinic Friday, pulling teeth, filling cavities, “whatever it takes,” she said.
“I love it,” she added of volunteering her time. “I try my best to give back a little bit.”
Woolly said so many people from the community volunteered to help at the Salisbury clinic that the Dental Society organizers put a cap on those signing up — something never done before.
Sizable donations from Tom and Dottie Abramowski, the Old North Dental Society and Robertson Foundation also made the local event possible.
Woolly said plans already are in the works for another Salisbury clinic next year.
“I worried like heck about it,” Mayberry said, “but it turned out to be a good event for us.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.