Free dental clinic draws hundreds to Davenport on first day

Hundreds flocked to Davenport’s free dental clinic, many camped out overnight to seek care.

DAVENPORT, Iowa -- The line into RiverCenter in downtown Davenport started forming Thursday afternoon. Many had brought chairs and blankets to camp out overnight. The big event: Not a concert or a show, but a free dental clinic.

"We move to different cities around the State of Iowa. This is the second trip to Davenport," said Kyle Gagliardo, State Chair for the Iowa Mission of Mercy.

IMOM has been organizing the clinic since 2008.

On Friday more than five hundred people flocked to the RiverCenter. Some travelled from as far as Wisconsin. Some, like Tamara Shell, have waited years for care like this.

She arrived at the clinic at 6 A.M. when doors openend and was sitting nervously in a waiting area after having had her medical evaluation and x-rays done.

Five hours in, she was still debating whether to go through with it.

"Do I stick around, because I’m very nervous, or run?" she contemplated. "I have severe anxiety, for a needle to be going towards my face, I’m a little nervous."

During dental triage, she was told she needed some major oral surgery.

"I’m getting eleven teeth extracted."

But she also knew that in the past two years, her front teeth have embarrassed her.

She said she loved to smile, but always tried to cover it up.

It's affected her job as a server, and her outlook.

"It stops me from smiling or even trying to be happier."

300 dental care professionals and 400 volunteers were on hand to help people like Tamara.

"We have a lot of good programs in the State of Iowa to take care of children. But low income adults or adults who have insurance that doesn’t cover a lot, those are the populations that we see really still in need,' said Gagliardo.

The Iowa Mission of Mercy has treated more than 14,000 patients in the past 12 years for free.

For Tamara Shell, who is homeless, without health insurance and transportation, getting care for her teeth had been out of reach for the past two years.

"I don’t have the money, the means to get to where the dentist wanted to send me. That’s an hour and half a way, and you go to three, four appointments before you even get them pulled," she said.

She only recently heard about the Mission of Mercy and that it was in town.

Dr. Craig Peterson, who normally practices at Cornerstone Family Dentistry in Davenport, performed the procedure for Tamara. Mission of Mercy is not able to get entire dentures made, but the extraction is an important step when teeth have deteriorated. Volunteers are able to connect patients with follow up care when needed.

On the patient chair, Tamara's nerves got the best of her and she shed a few tears as Dr. Peterson numbed her gums.

But she said she couldn't wait to have new, big, pearly teeth again.

"I’m gonna be smiling with the big smile and show you the pearly teeth, next time I’m on TV," she said, and couldn't help but giggle.