Hundreds of people in need of dental care showed up Thursday in advance of a free dental clinic at Rock Hill’s First Baptist Church, long before a two-day clinic scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
Hundreds of volunteers and about 300 dental professionals are set to serve as many as 1,500 people during Dental Access Days.
People without health insurance or the means to pay for care showed up as early as Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Some sat under a tent for a while Thursday until about 300 people who had been pre-screened at area health departments were finished being processed with X-rays and other procedures in advance of Friday’s actual dental work.
By mid-afternoon, everyone who came to the church was inside filling out paperwork.
“I was number one in line and got here late on Wednesday night,” said Chyvonda Bennett, 49, of Rock Hill.
Steven Taylor of Rock Hill – number six – who was in line for hours, said he is homeless and has not seen a dentist in years.
“This is my only chance to get to a dentist,” Taylor said.
Many people waiting for service spoke about how dental care is far down the list of priorities for those without a job or a home or just part of the area’s working poor who don’t have dental insurance. The philanthropic and medical communities have come together to fill a need that politicians at the local, state and federal levels have not – basic dental care for the poorest people.
The clinic, sponsored by the S.C. Dental Association with help from Delta Dental and DentaQuest, is the first in Rock Hill. The association has put on previous clinics in Columbia, Charleston, Greenville and Florence, said executive director Phil Latham. The clinic will run on a first-come, first-served basis from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Only adults will be served.
“The need is clearly here, and we want to be able to help people get the care that they clearly need,” said Dr. Paul Coombs, a Rock Hill dentist who, with Dr. Bill Cranford, is helping organize much of the care. Dozens of area dentists and other health professionals are volunteering professional services.
All patients are checked to determine what care is most pressing and what can be done. Several businesses have offered equipment and supplies, and scores of volunteers from First Baptist Church and other civic groups are helping health care providers from around York County and the state.
The sanctuary has been turned into a dental theater, with more than 80 dentist chairs in it. There are rooms for X-rays and other procedures, such as cleanings, fillings and extractions. The gym has been turned into a pre-screening center.
Belinda Lamar, who lives outside Rock Hill, said she hasn’t been to a dentist in at least 14 years. Before her actual dental work would be done Friday, Dr. Ana Billman did the pre-screening of Lamar’s mouth to see what procedures could be done to help her get back to healthy living.
“This really, for me, is the one chance I have to get a cleaning and have a tooth filled that I needed filled for a long time,” Lamar said.