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Free dental clinic fills dire need

June 26, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

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HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. -- Root canal procedures were happening in the locker room. Teeth cleanings and fluoride varnishes were under way in an area with wrestling mats above a gym floor lined with treatment chairs filled with patients.

Their mouths were open for oral health professionals, who were craning to peer inside.

What they saw in the mouths of more than 500 people on Friday at Hedgesville High School was a need for oral health care. In some cases, their need at the Eastern Panhandle's second Mission of Mercy (M.O.M.) free dental clinic was dire.

"We had one patient in there for three hours ..." event chairwoman Betty Russell said.

The clinic continues today, with the goal of serving at least 1,000 people, if not more. The all-volunteer clinic served 1,153 people last year.

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Patient capacity was reached by Friday at 5 a.m., Russell said. People interested in receiving some form of oral health treatment began arriving at the school Thursday night, organizers said.

Mike Renew of Falling Waters, W.Va., came to have his fillings redone so a remaining molar would not split, he said.

"Everybody here is just absolutely top-shelf, top-of-the-line people," said Renew, who was the last person in line to be screened in advance of receiving treatment in the gymnasium foyer. "I'm getting my teeth 'renewed' today."

Patricia Colwell of Martinsburg, W.Va., had restorative work done to her front bottom teeth, the first time she had been treated by a dentist in about 10 years.

"When I finally did get to the chair, they we're very kind to me. Both (dentists) had good senses of humor" Colwell said. "I have been very ... impressed by the time that all of these people have given to these particular couple of days."

Volunteer Mary Boyd "Beezie" Kearse, one of about 800 people who signed up for the event, said the people she has met have been very appreciative of the services provided.

The condition of some patients' teeth has been "very eye-opening" for Kearse, who also volunteered at last year's Mission of Mercy event.

"They just put it off, they can't afford to have it done and they put it off for years and years and years -- or they're afraid of the dentist," Kearse said.

Thomas Leslie, a dentist from Berkeley Springs, W.Va., said dozens of oral health professionals from the four-state area joined him and most of the Eastern Panhandle's dentists to volunteer their services.

This year's Mission of Mercy is his sixth, and he said he plans to provide services at a M.O.M. event next month in Parkersburg, W.Va.

"This is truly a wonderful project," said Leslie, who along with his wife, Toni, have been leaders in putting the Mission of Mercy event together.

Event benefactor Mikki Van Wyk credited Russell and the hundreds of volunteers from the community such as Kearse for making the event happen.

"It's not just about writing a check," Van Wyk said of her advocacy of improving oral health care in the Eastern Panhandle.

While acknowledging the monetary contribution, Van Wyk said Russell deserved to be recognized for making the event work. The United Way of the Eastern Panhandle this month named Russell the 2009 Berkeley County Volunteer of the Year for her M.O.M. efforts.

"She's phenomenal," said Van Wyk, who also was the organization's Spirit Award winner. "Honestly, I really think she could organize an invasion."

Van Wyk said the event has been moving for her and others who have been involved in organizing the outreach effort.

"We hold hands where we need to," Van Wyk said. "We have people that are just there to help smooth the way.

"So, in the end, you have people who may have had many teeth removed, or who have had fillings or root canals or whatever, and they're thanking you and they're crying because they're so happy they're out of pain.

"That's the most moving experience. We knew we wanted to help people, but we just didn't realize what an impact it would have on us."

In addition to the dental services, people were offered the opportunity to receive other health services, including diabetes and pulmonary function screenings. Vision and hearing testing was sponsored by the Lions Club.

Child care was provided by people with Berkeley County's Head Start program, said Jaimee Borger, director of communications for Berkeley County Schools.

"Hedgesville High School has been proud to open its doors to the community and share in such a great success," Borger said.

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