Hundreds of teeth were extracted. Thousands of teeth were filled. And of course, there were root canals.
That was all part of the once-a-year dental care offered Friday in a 12-hour extravaganza of donated services by more than 200 South Carolina, dentists, periodontists, dental students and staffers Friday at the S.C. Dental Association’s annual clinic at the State Fairgrounds. Another hundred volunteers helped with non-dental services.
By day’s end, some 800 people had received about $600,000 of free dental care. Many went home with pain meds. At times, dentists were treating more than 70 patients. All had been X-rayed and had their blood pressure taken as part of a pre-screening.
“We’ve been doing this for about nine years in different parts of the state,” said dentist Dr. Chris Andrews, co-chair of the event.
Besides tooth extractions, fillings and root canals, hygienists cleaned teeth.
“I come here every year,” said Dr. Julia Mikell, a Columbia dentist who helped coordinate the event. “There are patients out there who don’t have access to dental care, and a lot of times it’s a financial need.”
Event organizer Dr. Lee Ayers, a periodontist who works near Five Points, said Friday’s work “takes care of a need that’s not being met.”
Dentists often have an easier time in offering a one-day clinic than people in other, more complex medical specialties, Ayers said. “We can do things like this – we get in, take a tooth out and move on. In other specialties, they have to look at a diagnosis, so many systems are connected in the body, and it’s more of a challenge.”
One benefit is to show the young dental students that part of being a healer is giving back – that dentistry is more than a job.
“They’re learning that this is what you do if you are in the medical profession in South Carolina,” Mikell said.
In the last nine years, the dentists’ free clinic has provided more than 12,000 people with an estimated $6.8 million in donated care, organizers estimated.