UW has strong presence at free Seattle/King County Clinic

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UW has strong presence at free Seattle/King County Clinic

UW Health Sciences and UW Medicine volunteers joined with other area agencies to deliver care
Steve Steinberg

Sitting at the patient triage station on the floor of Seattle's KeyArena, dentist Mike Buehler questioned the patient, an Asian woman, with the help of her Mandarin interpreter.

“When she chews, does it hurt, or does it hurt on its own?” he asked the interpreter. “Is it [sensitive to] hot or cold?” After the woman responded and the interpreter relayed her answer, Buehler said, “She may have a cracked tooth.” She headed off to the X-ray station, interpreter in tow, clutching her records.

The rest of the arena floor hummed with activity Thursday morning, Oct. 27, as scores of volunteers sprung into action on the opening day of the 2016 Seattle/King County Clinic. The clinic will continue through Sunday.

Many patients had waited outside since the wee hours of a rainy morning for a chance at free dental, medical and vision care at Seattle’s biggest annual free clinic. Held Seattle Center since 2014, the clinic has grown to provide care for more than 4,000 people last year.

Dodson at free dental and medical clinic
Steve Steinberg
Thomas Dodson, chair of the UW Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, preps for a procedure with dental assistant Kristi Welsh.
Thomas Dodson, chair, UW Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery dental assistant Kristi Welsh.

No identification is needed.

Along with dozens of community organizations, participants this year included UW Medicine, the School of Dentistry and the School of Public Health. A battalion of volunteer providers from many fields delivered care.

Among them were UW School of Dentistry faculty, students and alumni such as Buehler, who were out in force on Thursday, as they’ve been in previous years.  In addition to 42 restorative dentists, there were 36 dental hygienists performing cleanings, plus 14 oral surgeons, four endodontists doing root canals, eight lab technicians, and a team of psychologists, social workers and insurance navigators to help patients work through issues.

Another eight dentists were devoted solely to performing examinations and digital scans that could be fed to a bank of milling machines that could fabricate permanent crowns in just a few minutes.

The clinic even featured a team of emotional support dogs to help reassure nervous patients.

“It’s been going really well,” said clinic co-director Brittany Dean, a UW dental alumna. “Every year it gets better and better. We have everything we really need – insurance navigators, social workers, you name it. We have a lot of community support.”

“We’ve had donors coming out of our ears,” said co-director Mike Karr, another UW dental alumnus.

Patients could receive a medical exam on the same day as their dental treatment, but would have to return on another day if they wanted a vision exam. Regardless, everyone got a free pair of running shoes and a small snack.

Service dogs Zelda, a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, and Mocha, a chocolate Lab
Steve Steinberg
Service dogs Zelda, a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, and Mocha, a chocolate Labrador retriever, were on hand to greet patients.
service dogs at free clinic

Exiting patients also received an extensive list of health care resources with contact information for every Washington county.

Patient Lonny Wendel, 67, a retired Seattle auto license agency owner, spoke while waiting to be triaged. He said he needed three crowns and possibly a root canal, and had received several fillings six weeks earlier at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission dental clinic. 

“If I could just find someone to do a bridge, I’d be fine.” He also said he still had a bridge that was installed 47 years ago by a UW dental student, and that it had held up just fine.

“The man knew his stuff,” he said with a smile.

Seattle dentist Chris Delecki said, “The most challenging patients are the ones who have had a lot of care done over the years, but haven’t maintained their care. So you see a lot of failing restorations.”

However, he’d also examined one 25-year-old woman who had never seen a dentist. Remarkably, she needed only a cleaning.

CLINIC INFORMATION: The Seattle/King County clinic continues through Sunday, Oct. 30, in KeyArena at the Seattle Center . Numbered admission tickets are distributed each day starting at 5 a.m., and registration begins at 6:30 a.m. A patient waiting area in the Fisher Pavilion opens just after midnight, at 12:30 a.m. each day. For more information, visit www.seattlecenter.org/patients or call 206-684-7200.