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New smiles, grateful hugs await dentists this week at MOM clinic in Salisbury

SALISBURY — Dr. Brandon Aron, a Salisbury dentist, will be working his third Missions of Mercy dental clinic this coming Friday and Saturday, and for those doctors who man all four shifts over two days, the work can be grueling.

“But the high you get supersedes that,” Aron says.

The high Aron speaks of is the feeling of fulfillment he and other dental professionals experience after helping uninsured patients who can’t afford care. They see mouths that have long been neglected and meet people whose quality of life has definitely been affected by the pain they’re in or the simple embarrassment of smiling.

Dentists and hygienists, working tirelessly in what essentially is a well-equipped M.A.S.H. unit, offer fillings, extractions, cleanings, partial plates and in some emergency cases, root canals. It’s essentially what dentists call “major surface service” for each patient.

When the work is done, it’s not unusual to see patients and dentists embrace.

“You do get a lot of hugs — unsolicited,” Aron says.

The third Salisbury Missions of Mercy Dental Clinic, an outreach program of the N.C. Dental Society, will be held from 6 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. Organizers predict they again will treat upward of 800 people over the two days, and the clinic still needs volunteer dentists, dental assistants, dental students, hygienists and Spanish interpreters.

The location of this year’s Salisbury clinic — the first two in 2013 and 2015 were held in Goodman Gymnasium at Catawba College — has moved to the former JC Penney Store at West End Plaza (the former Salisbury Mall).

People in need of care typically begin lining up a day ahead of time. Krista Woolly, executive director of the Community Care Clinic of Rowan County, is overall coordinator for the MOM clinic.

Woolly says the clinic will begin screening the first 50 patients in line at 3 p.m. Thursday. Those people will be given wristbands and be asked to return to the clinic at 6 a.m. Friday.

Overall, the clinic takes patients on a first-come, first-served basis, but usually there are still people waiting to be treated at 3 p.m. Saturday. Often, dentists will stay behind to address one thing for the remaining patients, take X-rays and give them plans to address other problems with their teeth.

“It brings to light the need in our community,” Woolly says. “When you see the hundreds of people lined up, it’s eye-opening.”

The gargantuan effort behind the clinic relies on hundreds of volunteers besides all the dental professionals who sign up. More dentists are needed for the upcoming clinic, and professionals can volunteer by going to the www.ncdental.org website.

They also can show up the days of the clinic and be put to work.

Woolly says enough community volunteers, doing everything from trash collection to screening, already have signed up for the clinic, so that list has been closed. Volunteers are coming from everywhere in Rowan County, including churches and civic clubs.

“There’s a lot of people we don’t know, which is kind of exciting,” Woolly says.

At the 2015 clinic, Woolly says 992 volunteer spots were filled over the three days, from Thursday through the Saturday tear down, and 6,857 hours were worked. The average hours put in per volunteer were 8.7.

“This is an amazing collaboration among Rowan County folks who are passionate about their community,” Woolly said. “Coming together from so many backgrounds to help a neighbor in need speaks volumes in a time and place when people are divided.”

The former department store will be filled Friday and Saturday with 60 dental chairs — 15 devoted to hygienists and 45 to dentists. The clinic requires about 50 dentists per shift, and there are four shifts over the two days.

The clinic also has a dental lab and pharmacy.

Aron, Dr. David Mayberry and Debbie Hill, longtime dental coordinator for the Community Care Clinic, have been in charge of recruiting volunteers in the dental fields. Woolly has done the rest.

“I’ll tell you what has changed — this woman here,” Mayberry says, pointing to Woolly sitting beside him. “She’s taken everything else.”

Mayberry and Dr. Jim Dunkin, former senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church, were the men behind the first MOM clinic in Salisbury in 2013. The clinics have been held about every 18 months since.

Overall, Mayberry and Hill have worked together at 10 MOM clinics in the state — some places as small as volunteer fire departments.

As MOM clinics go statewide, “We’re probably in the second tier as far as size,” Mayberry says. Charlotte has, for example, a MOM clinic that goes around-the-clock for two days.

The significant fund-raising needed to sponsor a clinic already has been taken care of here. “We’re lucky we have fund-raising capabilities,” Mayberry says. “… Not all communities will support something like this.”

For Aron, the MOM is an offshoot of the once-a-month volunteer dentistry work he does for the Community Care Clinic.

“Personally, it’s rewarding for me,” Aron says. “I just make it part of my schedule.”

One good side effect of the large MOM clinic is that it often leads to local dental professionals becoming volunteers at her local clinic, Woolly said.

“The need in our community is year-round and the Community Care Clinic seeks to address it each day,” Hill adds. “Participating in this event not only helps alleviate some of the need temporarily, it brings in more dental professionals who may want to continue this work with us.”

The 2015 MOM clinic led, for example, to four new dentists signing up to help at the Community Care Clinic.

For dentists, the MOM clinics are a chance to do something good for the community, not to mention the opportunity to socialize with others in the field. “We seldom see each other as dentists,” Mayberry says.

Mayberry says for him there is always at least one person he helps who is so grateful he is reminded why it’s important to volunteer.

Hill remembers a woman in Greensboro who needed dramatic work in addressing her front teeth.

When Mayberry and Hill were finished, “She said, ‘I can smile at my children again,'” Hill says. “We were all crying. We had to all take a break after that one.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com. For questions about the upcoming MOM clinic, call the Community Care Clinic at 704-636-4523.







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