Never have so many seemed so anxious to go to the dentist.
A visit that most folks avoid — especially when painful procedures are involved — had hundreds of people flocking to a local dentist office for a day of free services on Saturday through a non-profit program called Dentistry from the Heart.
Some had arrived around 8 p.m. Friday to be among the first in line Saturday, which is no joke despite the calendar saying it was April Fools’ Day.
And while some patients leave the dentist with a grimace of pain, many of those exiting the office of Dr. John L. Gravitte, D.D.S., P.A., wore smiles on their faces. They included April Worrell, 35, of Mount Airy, who had a tooth pulled Saturday which was keeping her less than gleeful beforehand.
“I hadn’t been smiling because it was cracked,” said Worrell, who had been dealing with the problem with one of her front teeth for more than a year. “It was hurting,” she said.
“It’s fixed now.”
In order to get relief, Worrell and many others arrived Friday night to receive the free first-come, first-served care, which officially began with registration at 6:30 a.m. Saturday.
“The crowd this morning, it was hectic, to say the least,” said Lt. Jeff Inman of the Mount Airy Police Department, who was at the scene of the free dental clinic at Dr. Gravitte’s office on North Pointe Boulevard off Fowler Road.
At that time, around 6 a.m., traffic was backed up on nearby U.S. 52, said Inman, who added that this led to some jockeying for position as would-be patients sought numbers to set the order in which they were served.
After some initial logistical issues, the team providing the dental services got everything organized and running smoothly. “Nobody was ugly about it,” Inman said of the gathering that included “a lot” of patients from out of town.
Emily McMillian, who is on the staff at Dr. Gravitte’s office, said before noon Saturday that about 300 people had showed up at that point, with around 75 patients having been seen so far for fillings, cleanings, extractions, screenings and more. They completed paperwork outside the building and then waited as small groups of about 10 people periodically were shuttled in according to the numbers assigned them.
“We’re supposed to stop at five,” McMillian said of the clinic schedule Saturday afternoon. “But I don’t see that happening.”
Organizers were anticipating the highest turnout ever for the local program.
Around noon, cars were parked along roads in the immediate area, some containing drivers taking a nap after “camping out” in their vehicles all night.
“We came at eight o’clock last night,” said Brandi Brannock, 28, of Lowgap, who arrived with her aunt. “We were 21st in line.”
Brannock had an upper wisdom tooth removed, which had been giving her trouble for “probably about eight years.”
The Lowgap woman, who has seven children, has no dental insurance for herself and could not afford the cost of having the tooth extracted on her own. It ranged from $400 to $1,000 depending on how complicated the procedure was.
Brannock said it took only about 35 minutes Saturday. “They numbed it and I don’t know what they did after that.”
She appreciated the opportunity to receive the services, which were being provided for the third year through the efforts of a small army of dental professionals in the area who were donating their time and skills.
In addition to Dr. Gravitte, at least four other dentists were expected to be involved, along with hygienists, dental assistants and others — around 60 in all.
“I mean, it’s awesome — really it is,” Brannock said of the event that allowed her to finally get rid of a pesky wisdom tooth, which might not be the end of the story.
“I’ve still got two more on the bottom,” she reported.
April Worrell, the patient who had one of her front teeth removed, seemed representative of many seeking the free dental services on Saturday.
“I lost my medical insurance when I lost my job,” Worrell said of her position at Hanesbrands in Mount Airy, where she had worked for 11.5 years.
However, being employed doesn’t guarantee a person access to dental care, she pointed out. “Even if they do have jobs, they don’t have medical or dental insurance.”
The problem with her tooth became increasingly difficult to swallow.
“It started decaying,” said Worrell, who showed up at the clinic site at 11:30 p.m. Friday along with her mom, Mary Handy.
“I was the 31st car in line,” she said late Saturday morning. “I’ve been here about 12 hours.”
Yet Worrell was happy to be able to go to the dentist — an event most people take for granted.
“I wish they had more like this,” she added of the free clinic.
“This is a really good thing.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.