The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 7, 2014

Happy smiles: OkMOM providing area residents free dental care at Expo Center again today

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Enid resident Graciela Alatorre waited all day Friday for a simple dental treatment.

She stood in line with about 1,000 others who, for whatever reasons, couldn’t afford a visit to their dentist. Since 8:30 a.m. she waited, but Alatorre had no worries.

“For me? No. I’m free,” she said. “For me it’s perfect.”

Eight hours after arriving at Chisholm Trail Expo Center, a volunteer dentist extracted a tooth that was bothering her. Volunteer hygienists gave her a thorough cleaning. Alatorre finally found herself with a cheek full of gauze and a happy smile.

“I’m happy that I got free care. It’s been a really good experience,” she said with help from a volunteer translator.

Friday was the first of two days Oklahoma Mission of Mercy was in Enid. The event wraps up later today. There is no eligibility requirement, and patients aren’t asked any financial questions, but the donations of time and equipment are meant to help those who cannot afford treatment.

Dr. Todd Bridges, of Lawton, who spent Friday creating dental appliances like dentures, said OkMOM has donated more than $4 million of dentistry to about 7,500 patients in its first four years. He stressed this kind of work is not unusual for his profession.

“The folks that you see here are doing charitable dentistry in their offices every day of the week. This is just on a bigger scale to where we can affect the Enid community,” he said. “It’s something that we’re born with, an innate thing with dentists, to give back to their community.”

This is the fifth year for OkMOM. The organization previously held annual events in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, McAlester and Lawton.

“It’s an amazing event to bring it to the northwest corner of the state,” he said.

Gloria Bega, of Enid, also left the Expo Center after an extraction and cleaning. The event is important for her, she said, “because all of my teeth need to be good.”

“The people are very nice. They give a lot of attention. I’m very, very happy coming here today,” she said.

And to the 2,000 or so dental professionals and volunteers, “I say, God bless everybody.”

A volunteer who made the trip from Muskogee, Dannetta Tate, has spent five years with OkMOM. As health coordinator for a tribal Head Start program, she understands the value of making sure people get proper dental treatment.

Oftentimes, after arriving in terrible pain and leaving with a better smile, patients at OkMOM events will profusely give their thanks.

“’No, you being here is awesome,’” she’ll reply. “’You’re getting services that you couldn’t afford to get, and you’ll come out of here 100 percent healthy, mouth-wise.’ When you’re in pain, you just don’t want to be bothered.”

Along with removing bad teeth, OkMOM also provides more in-depth treatment like root canals and fillings.

Tate shied away from accepting her volunteerism as a badge of honor.

“I like doing this. I like making sure the people here in our state are taken care of,” she said. “I guess it is one, but I’m just serving the public.”

OkMOM allowed patients to stay in the Expo Center overnight so they could wait in line for more treatment today. Preparations began at 5 a.m., and dentists expect to see another 1,000 people before the end of the day.

The event is presented by Oklahoma Dental Association, Oklahoma Dental Foundation and Oklahoma Delta Dental Oral Health Foundation, and is endorsed by Oklahoma State Department of Health. For information or to volunteer, go to www.okmom.org or call (800) 876-8890.