Thousands get free dental care and so can you

Free Dental Care Clinic (AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb)

DANBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — The O’Neill Center at Western Connecticut State University has been transformed into a huge dentist’s office. It’s a two day free dental clinic. It’s a big effort because, surprisingly, in Connecticut the need is big, too. That was evident from the crowd of people lined up before dawn in freezing cold, all to see the dentist. Well, one of many dentists.

“So we have about 250 dentists here, about 150 dental hygienists,” said Dr. Bruce Tandy, a dentist and co-chair of the Connecticut Mission of Mercy. “We have dental assistants, but most of our volunteer are laypeople.”

There are about 1,600 volunteers all told, all in Danbury to coordinate and provide free dental care to people who need it, like Mary Schipke.

“My one front tooth is gone. It’s turned black,” Schipke said. “I had to go to Mexico to get a filling filled.”

It wasn’t filled right, according to Mary, who says she’s living in her car right now.

“I’m on disability,” said Schipke. “So I only get $647 a month to live on, and you cannot live on $647 a month.”

This is the eighth year of the Connecticut Mission of Mercy free dental clinic. The location changes every year, but the need is always there. Dental health is one of those things people let slide in tough times.

“Hardworking people who have a mortgage, have kids, have kids in school,” said Dr. Steve Hanrahan, and dentist from New Fairfield who is volunteering his time. “All of a sudden they lose their job, especially in this economy and they have to prioritize and sometimes the kids come before the teeth.”

For these two days a year, their teeth can come first, and everybody walks away with a good smile.

“You know, it’s smiles on all sides,” according to Dr. Tandy, one of the organizers. “People say, ‘Why do you do it?’ Well, because we can help a lot of people in a short period of time. We work with such great people and everybody gets a great high out of this.”

If you want to take advantage of the free help, their chairs fill up fast. If you come Saturday, arrive early. Doors open at 6 and they will only let in as many people as they can treat. If you’re coming, just get off I-84 at exit 4 and follow the signs here to the O’Neill Center at Western Connecticut State University.

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