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A Long Night but "It's So Worth It"

Ann Kenda
Arkansas Public Media

The 2017 Mission of Mercy event attracted thousands of people to the Convocation Center at Arkansas State University this weekend for no-cost, no-appointment dental services such as cleanings, fillings and extractions. People started lining up the night before to take advantage of the rare opportunity to receive free dental care that otherwise would have cost them hundreds or even many thousands of dollars.

Brian Baxter, a disabled veteran from Pine Bluff, was first in line and sitting near the patient entrance door in a folding chair the afternoon before the event was to open at 6am the next day. He explained that his wife needs some teeth extractions that would have cost $8,000 without the free event. He sent her to a nearby motel and settled in for a long night holding her place so she could get the teeth he said were slowly poisoning her removed early the next day.

Credit Ann Kenda / Arkansas Public Media
Arkansas Public Media
Brian Baxter of Pine Bluff was first in line for the free dental clinic, having arrived by 5pm the afternoon beforehand.

“It’s all God.  I give him the glory, not me,” he said, brushing off suggestions that he might be husband of the year for camping out all night to get her a badly-needed dental visit.  

Others started joining Baxter in line by around 11pm. Someone went on a McDonald’s run and came back with a bag of hamburgers to share with anyone who might be hungry, and others played on their phones, flipped through magazines or talked about the state’s execution of a death row inmate that was taking place that evening. Others agreed that they would make sure that an elderly man who was waiting silently and appeared to badly need the dental services would not lose his place in line when a larger crowd arrived in the morning.

Some said they needed long overdue cleanings and small cavities filled, while others said they had been in intense pain for quite some time and were more than willing to wait all night if that’s what it took to get diseased teeth extracted.

“The last time I checked, for one tooth for me it was $1200,” said Doris Jones of Jonesboro. Others said they had been quoted figures for dental work that ran into the hundreds or thousands of dollars and was out of the question for their budgets.

“I have a printout and it was going to be $400 per tooth,” said Amy from Cabot, who needed five teeth pulled plus some cavities filled for an additional $680.  She said with the extractions and cavities her husband needed, their total bill for all their dental work would have been about $6,000 and with two children to support, it simply wasn’t going to happen.

“I make a little money but nothing that even compares to having fork that out.  So it’s a blessing, that’s what it is,” said her husband, Daniel, who described the daily pain of two impacted teeth in the back of his mouth.

Jasmine from Des Arc was wrapped up in blanket while chatting with some new friends in the line. “We’re making it fun.  It’s like a big family outing,” she said.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media's reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.


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