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Hundreds line up in hopes of free dental care

Some wait 24 hours to take advantage of 2-day clinic set up at Salem, Ore., college

The Columbian
Published:
2 Photos
Hundreds of people waited in line for up to 24 hours to receive free dental care at the Mission of Mercy dental clinic set up at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Ore., on Friday, July 11, 2014.
Hundreds of people waited in line for up to 24 hours to receive free dental care at the Mission of Mercy dental clinic set up at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Ore., on Friday, July 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Statesman Journal, Thomas Patterson) Photo Gallery

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — It wasn’t Black Friday or a new iPhone going on sale.

The hundreds of people in line at Chemeketa Community College in Salem on Friday were hoping someone could scrape the tartar from their gums and maybe even pull a bad tooth.

At dawn, about 300 people were lined up for the fifth Mission of Mercy free dental clinic in Oregon.

Some had been there 24 hours. Kory Brown and his wife, Leslie Bowers, drove from Kalama to pitch a tent at the front of the line.

“We were bound and determined to be first,” he said.

Brown needs a root canal, and Bowers wanted a removable partial denture, to replace a dead tooth. It’s something built at the clinic and can be only provided to a limited number of people, so the couple wanted to make sure she got one.

The two-day clinic is sponsored by the Oregon Dental Association, and the workers are volunteers who do cleanings, filings, extractions and limited treatments on a first-come, first-served basis.

It was the first time it’s been held in Salem. Last year’s clinic was in Portland.

About 1,200 people were expected to stream through the doors of the school’s gym, where workers had sent up something of a dental city overseen by retired pediatric dentist Weston Heringer Jr., a volunteer at previous clinics.

“There is as much Third-World dental disease in the United States as in the Third World,” he said.

Patients will also get dental hygiene education and a free toothbrush, toothpaste and floss, said Christina Swartz of the dental association.

Keizer resident Blue Castorena said he would be grateful for a back filling and a cleaning. He said a motorcycle accident seven years ago left him unable to work, and he hasn’t been able to afford dental care since then.

The group tries to be open with the patients, letting them know where in the line the cutoff point for services will likely be, Swartz said.

“Just come as early as you can,” she said.

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