Thousands attend 'Mission of Mercy' free dental clinic in College Park

The "Mission of Mercy" free dental clinic at UMD's XFINITY Center. (WJLA)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WJLA) – Thousands lined up outside the University of Maryland’s XFINITY Center Friday for the “Mission of Mercy” free dental clinic.

Many lined up before the clinic’s doors even opened. Charles Jones, who is homeless, spent the night in a folding chair. He says he hasn’t received dental care in at least 15 years.

Twenty percent of Maryland residents report they have not visited a dentist within five years.

“[Dental care] is a necessity, but it’s treated as a luxury in this country,” said clinic patient Jackie Adamson.

Lori Krotendofer, a Waldorf resident and mother of four, waited in the parking lot for seven hours on her daughter’s first birthday while her husband received dental care inside.

“A free clinic is very important for us, ‘cause he doesn’t have insurance, and he works very hard to support us and our kids,” she said.

A 2007 ABC 7 I-Team investigation exposed the desperation of families seeking low-cost dental care, where children were mistreated. The inspiration for this the two-day “Mission of Mercy” dental clinic, a partnership between Catholic Charities and the University of Maryland, was 12-year-old Deamonte Driver, who died after an untreated tooth infection.

“We cannot wait for people to die before we act,” said Dr. Stephen Thomas, a professor at the UMD School of Public Health. “This event here is focused on the adults—the mothers, the fathers, the aunts and uncles of the Deamonte Drivers of the world.”

On Friday, 1,800 volunteers answered that call, offering cleanings, root canals, and even crowns on the spot.

“As a professional, you have to do this kind of stuff,” said Dr. Tris Kruger.

“This setup is unprecedented,” said Capt. Dean Coppola, a representative of the Surgeon General.

The clinic featured 100 dental chairs for the nearly 1,000 patients it treated Friday.

“I’ll definitely be telling the Surgeon General about this, and the chief dental officer, because this is a market that we need to be in in the U.S. public health service,” Dr. Coppola said.

As impressive as the “Mission of Mercy” clinic operation was, 1,000 people had to be turned away. Many will return on Saturday; they are advised to arrive hours before the doors open at 7 a.m.

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