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Free dental clinic in W.Va. serves more than 700

June 27, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

HEDGESVILLE, W.VA. -- More than 700 people took advantage of a free dental clinic Friday at Hedgesville High School as part of an ongoing initiative to improve the oral health of area residents.

"This has been an adventure for me," said Vivian Newman of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., while waiting for a cavity to be filled by one of more than 60 dentists who volunteered their services for the Eastern Panhandle Mission of Mercy (MOM) project.

Organizers have ordered enough supplies to provide about 1,000 people with one of three services - tooth extraction, restoration or cleaning - and some people might be turned away today after the clinic resumes at 6 a.m.

"It started out (Friday morning) a little jumbly, but once we got everybody in the right place, it went like clockwork," said Betty Russell, a leading organizer of the first such event to be held in West Virginia.

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A retired Washington, D.C., school teacher, Newman, 61, said she arrived at the high school west of Martinsburg at 5 a.m., about five hours after organizers said the first patients lined up at the campus off W.Va. 9 to take advantage of the free dental care. Berkeley County Sheriff's Department deputies and the agency's reserves began preparing for the traffic at 10 p.m., Thursday.

Anne Basham was among more than 60 dentists from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia who committed to providing uncompensated care at the clinic. Hygienists from Maryland, dozens of other oral health professionals and hundreds of volunteers were stationed from the school's entrance near the auditorium to the gymnasium. A 30-foot-long trailer behind the school housed stations for oral surgery and a denture lab.

"Hopefully, it will open up some eyes (about the community need for dental care)," said Basham, who along with Russell's husband, W. Dean Russell, and others are directors of Healthy Smiles of the Eastern Panhandle Inc., a nonprofit organization incorporated in February 2008.

One of Healthy Smile's primary goals is to establish a clinic specifically for children in need of dental care. A 2003 survey by the West Virginia Bureau of Health indicated more than 10,000 Medicaid eligible children in the Eastern Panhandle were not receiving adequate dental care.

Sponsored by the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, the MOM clinic was modeled after similar all-volunteer service projects first launched in 2000 by Terry Dickinson, executive director of the Virginia Dental Association.

Vicki Shean of the United Way said comments left by patients in the MOM clinic's "thank you journal" just before they left the school Friday were heartwarming. Shean fought back tears while sharing some of the stories she heard leading up to the event.

"I am so thankful for this service," one woman wrote in the journal. "It's been 11 years since I've had insurance or a dental visit. Thank God and you. God bless you."

Another woman thanked the volunteers for giving her smile back.

"This was so awesome, I want to cry," another patient wrote.

"Some of these people got smiles that they never had before," said Russell, who said he was thankful for the support received from the MOM clinic's benefactor, Mikki Van Wyk.

While setting up a denture for a 31-year-old woman, Greg Gray, owner of a dental laboratory in Fredericksburg, Va., said the six MOM projects in which he previously participated in Virginia have kept him grounded.

"We almost said no, but we can't say no," Gray said of taking part in the MOM clinic with cosmetic dentist Stephen Alouf.

"It's a labor of love," Alouf added. "It's good stuff."

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