More than 1,500 come to 2-day event

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published June 9, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated June 7, 2013 at 2:04 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Dr. Lee Hinson, assisted by Karen Trantham, work on a tooth extraction before the patient is fitted for a partial denture during the Arkansas Mission of Mercy two-day free dental clinic sponsored by the Arkansas State Dental Association.

Imagine a dentist office the size of a basketball court with more than 100 dentists all seeing patients, while hundreds of other dentists and dental assistants provide help and support services.

Such an image, perhaps a nightmare for some who fear having their teeth worked on, was a dream come true for more than 1,500 people who received free dental care in Arkadelphia on May 31 and June 1.

The Arkansas Mission of Mercy, founded by the Arkansas State Dental Association, gathered more than 100 dentists and hundreds more dental assistants at the Wells Center on the campus of Henderson State University for two days of free dental care.

Klye Benton, a dentist from Hot Springs, said the patients, some of whom waited hours to get to one of the chairs, were in real need for care.

“Most were in moderate to extreme discomfort,” Benton said. “Many have gone years without a dental checkup and are anxious about seeing a dentist.”

The dentist said he had seen “40 or more” patients in the few hours of the event.

Terry Fiddler, a veteran of all seven of the annual free-care events, said he sees an average of 300 patients each year over the two days.

Scores of hopeful patients waited in chairs outside the Wells Center before even entering the gymnasium. After health information was taken, the patients moved to X-ray, then to another waiting area before being shown to one of the dental-examination stations on the basketball court.

An area on one side of the gym was where clean tool trays and other equipment was kept, ready to be ordered by the dentists. The other side included a preparation area with gloves and masks for the dentists and assistants.

Benton said he had been pulling teeth all morning.

“For my last patient, it was complicated,” he said. “I did a full-mouth extraction of 14 teeth because of an infection. I told her to save up her money and get a good set of teeth.”

Along with working at the Arkansas Mission of Mercy, Benton said, he has gone on mission trips as a dentist in the Caribbean and Africa.

“A lot of dentists in Arkansas offer free dental clinics throughout the year,” said Drew Ramey, assistant executive director of the state dental association. “This is just the big event that gets noticed every year.”

He said the free service is open to anyone who needs dental care and will wait in line for the dentists to get to them.

“We don’t ask about their income,” Ramey said. “It is not our place to judge. The dentists in Arkansas just want to give back to the community.”

The free clinic is supported by two major sponsors. The founding sponsor is Delta Dental Foundation of Arkansas, while other funds and support come from the Walmart Foundation.

Ramey said this was the first Arkansas Mission of Mercy in southern Arkansas.

“We try to move to a different section of the state each year,” he said, “especially underserved and rural areas.”

Next year, the event will be held May16 and 17 at the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center in Springdale.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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