Volunteers give free care to thousands at weekend event
[2:15 p.m. Oct. 29: Updated number of dental patients to 3,400.]
Joel Berg, dean of the UW School of Dentistry, stood in the middle of the Key Arena floor wearing scrubs and a wry grin.
“I just triaged a guy who said he’d gotten out of jail after five years yesterday, and the first thing he needed to do was see a dentist,” Berg said Friday morning. He had started at about 7:15 a.m. and by 9:30 had screened about 30 patients and sent them on for treatment.
Berg joined a contingent of dentistry faculty, students and alumni who helped deliver free dental care to more than 3,400 Puget Sound residents during a massive four-day clinic at the arena Oct. 23-26. Hundreds of volunteers, UW-connected and from the community at large, teamed up to furnish medical and dental care and vision services.
The clinic was conducted by Remote Area Medical (RAM), a Tennessee-based humanitarian group that has staged similar clinics in the United States and abroad. It was hosted by Seattle Center. Dozens of professional and community organizations joined the effort to provide services such as wound care, mammography, chiropractic, foot care, acupuncture and mental health counseling.
Two dentistry alumni, Jeffrey Parrish and Michael Karr, served as dental clinic volunteer co-directors. They started rounding up dentists and specialists in February.
Taking a brief breather Friday, Karr marveled at the operation’s efficiency as he surveyed the tarp-covered arena floor, humming with activity among 62 dental chairs lined up in rows. A mobile van off of the floor held several more chairs where dentists performed root canals, while X-rays were taken in another area. After patients received treatment, they received information on sources of free or reduced-cost dental care in King County.
“The organization has been absolutely phenomenal,” Karr said. As it has done elsewhere, RAM provided all the infrastructure and supplies, including dental chairs, instruments, X-ray services and sterilization. The clinic even featured teams of emotional-support service dogs to reassure jittery patients.
Patients started lining up at 3:30 a.m. each day for spots at the clinic. Some talked of having gone as long as 15 years without seeing a dentist, often because of the cost.
“I loved it – it was so nice,” said Jennifer Miner, 30, of Bothell, who needed multiple fillings and repairs on a couple of broken teeth. She’d seen a dentist four months before for an extraction, but that had exhausted her resources for treatment.
A 26-year-old Kent homemaker, agreed. “This is just a very helpful place,” she said.
Many dentists brought their own office staffs to work as dental hygienists and assistants. According to Karr, patients weren’t the only ones who got a big lift from the clinic.
“You talk to the dentists after they’re done, and they’re just pumped,” he said.