Outside Davenport’s RiverCenter at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, hundreds of people started lining up. It was nearly 10 hours before the Iowa Mission of Mercy opened its doors. They were willing to wait for the free dental clinic.
“Health insurance has been on the rise,” said patient Laura Luethye, Davenport. “Some employers don’t offer dental care.”
That’s why the RiverCenter looks like a giant dental office on Friday. Nearly 1,300 community volunteers and dental professionals make it all happen. They offer cleanings, fillings and extractions, all free of charge.
The free dental clinic continues on Saturday at the RiverCenter. It runs from 6:30 a.m. until 5. They’ll serve patients on a first come, first served basis.
“This program can’t solve the overall dental problem,” said Dr. Kyle Gagliardo, a Bettendorf dentist involved with the program. “But we’re helping those people that are here.”
Tim Springer drove more than three hours from Hampton, Iowa. After suffering extensive injuries in a motorcycle accident, this is his only option for dental care.
“You know how the economy is,” he said. “People are out of work. It’s very important to people to have their teeth taken care of because it’s a big part of your life.”
All of this represents nearly $1 million in free dental care. But it also pinpoints the need for services as patients struggle to make ends meet.
Organizers say it’s like holding a big wedding, but everything seems to come together. Dental chairs are busy. Patients are getting the care they need.
“It could be a matter of life or death for some people,” Springer said.
They’re thankful for the outreach and grateful for the care.
“They are heroes, very kind and paying it forward,” Luethye concluded. “I appreciate it very much.”