Oklahomans receive free dental care
BY SHANNON MUCHMORE World Staff Writer
Friday, February 03, 2012
2/03/12 at 5:05 PM
McALESTER -- About 1,000 Oklahomans received free dental care Friday, courtesy of the Oklahoma Mission of Mercy.
The clinic, which has been held annually for three years, will continue Saturday from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. Another 1,000 patients are expected then.
People began lining up for the event on Wednesday, and organizers had to stop the line from growing by early Friday afternoon.
Other clinics have been held in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Organizers have announced that the 2013 clinic will be in Lawton.
Douglas Auld, president of the Oklahoma Dental Association, said the number of people being treated was similar to the number in past years. It represents about $1 million in services.
“There are several barriers to care,” he said. “And one of them is definitely a financial burden. And the current economy makes it even worse.”
Oklahoma is last among all states for adults visiting the dentist at least once a year. About 58 percent of Oklahomans do so, compared with about 71 percent nationally, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
More than 90,000 Oklahomans are estimated to live in designated dental health professional shortage areas, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. McAlester is in Pittsburg County, which has two such areas. Tulsa has four, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Amber Cooper of Tulsa got up at about 3 a.m. to get in line for the clinic. She had some fillings and was expecting to have a few teeth extracted as well.
She stays at home to care for her children and doesn’t have any dental insurance. She couldn’t afford to go to a dentist for the work she needed done, she said.
“It’s definitely a blessing,” she said. “I’m very grateful. Everybody has been really sweet. Everybody is really caring.”
Tasha Mecher, 19, of Tulsa, gets a free cleaning by Alisha Soule, a dental hygienist in Ponca City, as people flood the Southeast Expo Center, in McAlester, for free dental work, on Friday. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World