Hundreds of people reportedly spent the night at the Maricopa County fairgrounds Friday night. They’re patiently waiting to see a dentist.
Lines started forming on Wednesday, as people showed up to take advantage of free dental care in Phoenix. Three hundred dentists and 1,500 volunteers help make this event possible—it is the fifth year that the Central Arizona Dental Society Foundation has hosted the Dental Mission of Mercy at the Veteran's Memorial Coliseum at the fairgrounds.
Organizers said the lines grew every year and that there is still a significant need for appropriate and preventative dental treatment, especially for the elderly community and children (two of the most vulnerable populations).
The coliseum transformed into a large-scale dental clinic with 100 dental chairs, where everything from fillings, extractions, cleanings and some lab work takes place.
The focus is on relieving pain and infection for anyone unable to afford dental care.
In four years and eight days the Arizona Dental Mission of Mercy provided nearly $8 million in dental care to those in need, serving about 8,000 patients.
Geraldine Lockett started losing her teeth to severe gum disease a few years ago. She had no top teeth and most of her bottom teeth were gone, as well. She slept in line just to get a set of dentures, worth almost $2,000, something she would never be able to afford. She was extremely grateful, walking out with a perfect set of teeth after the long wait.
"I'm beautiful, I'm beautiful, and I'm so grateful," said Lockett as she shook hands with the dental technician who installed her dentures.
Valerie Scoby was in a lot of pain due to a tooth abscess.
"I've been shot twice, and the pain of that was nothing compared to the pain of this tooth abscess."
Scoby cried as she became overwhelmed with appreciation at the men and women who were donating their time to help her.
"It means a lot to know there are people out there who dedicate their time," Scoby said.
Gary Jones, a board member at the Central Arizona Dental Society Foundation, said that they did it because they all truly cared about the community.
"Just seeing their big smiles is our goal. It's worth all of this hard work and effort," Jones said.
Some people did leave the event disappointed, as they did not get a chance to see the dentist on Friday. But there is still Saturday.
Lines started forming outside the coliseum at 3 p.m. Friday. People prepared for the long haul with tents, cots and blankets.
"It's a blessing, a big blessing. Who has the money to pay for teeth?" said Muhammad Akbar, a Phoenix resident who planned to sleep in his car outside the coliseum.
Arizona Department of Public Safety officers were at the event, not just providing security but also handing out free coats to those in line.
Organizers said the toughest part of the job was having to turn people away at closing time. Many vowed to return even earlier next year, saying they were prepared to camp out in the cold for days just to get rid of that toothache.
Services will be provided between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 9 and 10.
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