Free dental clinic
Over 700 patients came through the Illinois Mission of Mercy dental clinic at the Interstate Center Friday morning June 11, 2010. (The Pantagraph/LORI ANN COOK-NEISLER) June 11, 2010) LORI ANN COOK-NEISLER

BLOOMINGTON - Levi Eastman, 5, had been in pain.

"Levi has had a lot of problems with abscessed teeth and decay of his baby teeth," said his mother, Sarah Eastman of Goodfield. The Eastmans are on Medicaid, and Sarah had maxed out her credit card paying for her needed root canal work.

"I knew he needed to have work done, so it was a blessing when I heard about this," Eastman said.

"This" was the Illinois Mission of Mercy's massive, free dental clinic for the uninsured, underinsured and other children and adults in need and requiring dental work.

The first in Illinois and sponsored by the Illinois State Dental Society Foundation, the walk-in clinic was 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at the Interstate Center, Bloomington, and will continue from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

"Our main thing is to get these kids out of pain," said Dr. Maria Simon, a pediatric dentist from Evanston. Simon is among nearly 1,100 dentists, dental hygienists and assistants, other medical professionals and social service workers volunteering at the clinic, said Dr. Brad Barnes, a Normal dentist and event co-chairman.

Dentists recognize that some people in need aren't getting dental care, said Dr. Larry Osborne of Decatur, president of the Illinois State Dental Society and a clinic volunteer.

"We want to take care of this problem, as you can see," Osborne said.

On the east side of the Interstate Center, patients registered, were examined and their dental needs were determined.

On the west side, teeth were cleaned and patients received anesthesia if they needed further work.

Fillings, extractions, root canals and treatment partials were performed in departments separated by curtains. Treatment partials were made at an onsite lab, a sterilization area cleaned dental instruments, and a pharmacy dispensed prescribed post-operative pain medicine and antibiotics.

By 12:38 p.m. Friday, the clinic had to stop accepting new patients because 975 people (861 adults and 114 children) already had been accepted into the clinic and volunteers couldn't treat any more. People who arrived later were asked to return Saturday.

People began arriving Wednesday night and camped out. When Barnes arrived at the clinic at 3:45 a.m. Friday, 450 people were in line.

Sarah, Levi and Aaron Eastman, 3, arrived at 5:30 a.m. Levi needed two extractions and two fillings, Aaron had his teeth cleaned, and Sarah had three fillings done with Aaron on her lap and Levi in the stroller beside her.

"It's like a godsend," Sarah said. "I'm starting to tear up. I can't believe how nice everyone is. All the people here were hurting and now to see the smiles on everyone's faces. They are changing peoples' lives."

Danielle Devera of Bloomington works full time but doesn't have dental insurance and hasn't found a dentist to accept her Medicaid card. She made sure her son, Riese, 11, went to the dentist but she hadn't been to one in years.

"They are pulling two of my teeth today and tomorrow I'm getting four fillings and getting them cleaned," she said.

Riese had a cavity filled. "I'm happy that I got it done so I can get it over with and so I can get my teeth cleaned so they look good," Riese said from a dental chair.

Khalil Grismore, 8, of Bloomington had four teeth sealed and a crown applied over a broken tooth.

"That feels numbs and that feels numb," Grismore said, pointing to areas of his mouth while sitting in a dental chair. "But I'm not afraid of dentists."

By the numbers

Some numbers from the Illinois State Dental Society Foundation’s Mission of Mercy Friday at The Interstate Center, Bloomington. Numbers are expected to be higher when the two-day clinic continues today:

975

Number of people receiving dental treatment

813

Number of extractions performed

569

Number of dental restorations or fillings

$405,126.70

Dollar value of the free dental care provided

SOURCE: Dr. Brad Barnes

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