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Weekend Dental Clinic Provides Free Care To 1,500 People

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Jodie Valade
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WFAE
The floor of Bojangles' Coliseum is filled with dental patients at a free clinic Saturday.

Not too long ago, Tiffany Ghent's tooth began to hurt. It was one in the back at the top, and it kept getting infected and causing her face to swell. She knew the tooth needed to be pulled out.

So Ghent drove from her Salisbury home and staked out her spot in front of Bojangles' Coliseum at around 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

The North Carolina Missions of Mercy (NCMOM) dental clinic -- a statewide service that offers free dental service at intermitant clinics throughout the year -- opened its doors at 6 a.m. Friday, and thanks to Ghent's determination and forethought, she was one of the first patients seen.

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Credit Jodie Valade / WFAE
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WFAE
People wait in line for the NCMOM free dental clinic at Bojangles' Coliseum.

She got that tooth pulled -- then got right back in line to come back for a cleaning. 

"I don't have insurance and I definitely had to get it taken care of," Ghent said Saturday. 

The Kenneth D. Owen NCMOM-Charlotte clinic treated about 1,500 patients Friday and Saturday, providing free dental care to those without insurance. Patients stood in a line that snaked its way through the parking lot and along the road, some camping out overnight to ensure they would be seen by a dentist.

"The thrust of the clinic is catching the people who fall through the cracks," said Evan Miller, a past co-chairman of the clinic. "Most of the people are hard-working people that don't work for a company that has dental insurance and they just simply don't have the disposable income to go to the dentist. So this is our best attempt to catch some of those people."

This marked the fifth time Charlotte has hosted an NCMOM clinic, but the first time it was held at Bojangles'  Coliseum, Miller said. Previous clinics (in 2011, '12, '14 and '16) were at the Charlotte Convention Center, but lack of parking options led to the move to a new location.

In four previous clinics Charlotte has hosted, 7,500 patients have received $4.5 million worth of treatment. Statewide, 66,000 people have received $35 million worth of care. The entire operation -- from cleanings to extractions to X-rays and pharmacy -- is volunteer-run.

"You don't need an ID," Miller said. "No proof of insurance. If you're 18 years old, we don't care. If you've got a problem, we're here to fix it."

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Credit Jodie Valade / WFAE
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WFAE
A sign outside Bojangles' Coliseum shows what dental services are offered at the NCMOM clinic.

The bulk of procedures include fillings and extractions, though there were also a limited amount -- 100-150, Miller said -- of partial dentures offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Some more complicated services -- such as root canals on back teeth, crowns and full dentures -- could not be offered.

Patients were directed through an orderly setup that included an overall health screening, X-rays, treatment and check-out as the constant whir of drills filled the arena.

Cora Clerveaux was in line by 5:30 a.m. Saturday and admitted she hasn't been to a dentist since she was a teenager. The Charlotte resident is 58 years old, now, and knows she needs two teeth pulled.

"I don't have dental insurance -- I can't afford it," Clerveaux said. "I can't afford the dental work, I can't afford the money you pay after you go in. ... This is admirable what they're doing. It's very admirable. It seems like there's a lot of people who need it."

The next NCMOM clinic is scheduled for March 27-28, 2020 in High Point. It travels to Gastonia's Bethlehem Church Sept. 18-19, 2020. Plans for a Charlotte return are not yet known.

"In the end, we never see everyone," Miller said. "And there are patients in line that have things we can't do. That's the downside of this thing -- once the door shuts, there's always going to be more people. But happily, that's 1,500 less."

Other free and low-cost dental care options include:

UNC School of Dentistry

ECU School of Dental Medicine

Dentistry From the Heart

National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics

The North Carolina Dental Society's complete list is here.