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Free dental clinic draws large crowd

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Posted: Friday, April 19, 2013 9:19 pm | Updated: 9:56 pm, Fri Apr 19, 2013.

Usually, free dental clinics happen in poor, rural places: Southwestern Virginia, the Eastern Shore and similar places. The Charlottesville area’s first Mission of Mercy free dental clinic started Friday and continues today. Hundreds of people are showing up.

The first person waiting for one of the tickets for treatment showed up at 4 a.m. Friday, from Spotsylvania. Ticket distribution began at 2 p.m.

“The fact that this is necessary is — 'unfortunate' doesn’t quite capture it,” Erika Viccellio, executive director of the Charlottesville Free Clinic, said.

Patients were showing up Friday to register. There were medical screenings to be done, and dental triage. Patients were given a time to show up today, when each will get his or her most severe dental need dealt with.

“This need isn’t just in Southwest Virginia and in [rural Virginia],” Viccellio said. “It’s right here in our beloved city of Charlottesville.”

Lena Haskins of Charlottesville chose to go to the impromptu clinic. The alternatives, she said, would be to wait for dental work at the Charlottesville Free Clinic or a trip to Richmond, which is arduous, but offers quicker treatment.

“I’m tired of having toothaches,” she said.

Another woman, from Vera Cruz in Mexico and now of the Charlottesville area, said she was there to have a mostly gone front tooth dealt with. Dentists are expensive, she said, and other treatment would require a long wait.

The Charlottesville Free Clinic is the local source for dental care for poor adults, said Pat Firer, who’s on the event’s steering committee. But the Free Clinic’s waiting list is so long it’s sometimes impossible to even get on the waiting list.

This weekend's clinic is being put on by the Virginia Dental Association Foundation, Virginia Commonwealth University's dentistry school, the Free Clinic and the Charlottesville/Albemarle Dental Society, a grant from the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation and the donation of a space by Covenant Church. Local businesses gave goods and services, including a generator and portable toilets.

Hundreds of volunteers are helping at the clinic, which aims to treat about 400 patients, all adults, in a converted gymnasium.

Taylor Blake started helping out with Mission of Mercy clinics when she was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. She’s now a senior dental student at VCU and still at it.

“It’s just the most rewarding experience,” Blake said.  “It really is.”

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