The first two people in line arrived within 10 minutes of each other Friday evening, ready to sleep on the sidewalk overnight for free dental care at a high school in Laurel on Saturday morning.
Twelve hours later, one woman was reclining in a dentist’s chair, getting a new tooth made of a synthetic composite. The other was heading home: The temporary clinic, which served 700 people Friday and Saturday, was unable to provide the treatment she needed, which involved multiple crowns and an abscess, without a specialized lab.
About 300 other adults were turned away over two days because of the overwhelming demand for dental care at the Mid-Maryland Mission of Mercy clinic. The clinic, at St. Vincent Pallotti High School, was sponsored by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington and the Maryland Office of Oral Health.Many of those who waited in long lines at the clinic said they couldn’t afford the high price of dental care. Even those who had insurance said rising out-of-pocket costs made it unaffordable for them to have their teeth cleaned, cavities filled or root canals performed.
More than 400 volunteers — about half of them dentists, hygienists, oral surgeons and others in the field — provided more than $750,000 worth of free care over the two days, according to Deacon Jim Nalls of Catholic Charities. The work ranged from basic cleanings to root canals and wisdom teeth extractions, Nalls said.
Yasmin Bellavigna, 40, of Laurel, the first person in line for Saturday’s session, said that a cap fell off a tooth a year ago after a root canal and that even with dental insurance, she couldn’t afford to replace it. So the stay-at-home mother of two girls brought a yoga mat and blankets at 8 p.m. Friday, and watched as the line quickly curled around the block.
Cathi Stallings, 55, a social worker from Falls Church, joined her about 8:10 p.m., hoping to have several procedures done, including several crowns. She said her insurance wouldn’t cover the cost of the crowns, about $2,000 each.
“There’s not enough to cover everything I need,” Stallings said.
Although she didn’t receive the treatment she needed, Stallings said, the “eye-opening” trip was worth it. “It made me realize how many people are in the same boat,” she said.