Megan Lieberenz, a dentist at Kids Kare, shows Briceyn Figueroa, 3, dental instruments she will be using before his first dental visit during the New
Megan Lieberenz, a dentist at Kids Kare, shows Briceyn Figueroa, 3, dental instruments she will be using before his first dental visit during the New Mexico Mission of Mercy dental clinic on Friday at McGee Park in Farmington. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)
IF YOU GO

What: New Mexico Mission of Mercy for San Juan County

When: Doors open at 5 a.m. today. Patients will be seen on a first-come, first-served basis until late in the afternoon

Where: McGee Park, 41 Road 5568, Farmingtone

Cost: Free

More info: Go to www.nmdentalfondation.org or call 888-723-8820.

FARMINGTON — The rain didn't keep the patients away.

The New Mexico Mission of Mercy dental clinic for San Juan County kicked off Friday. Despite challenges posed by recent heavy rains, hundreds of residents received free dental care, and even more people are expected to be served Saturday.

Thursday evening's torrential rain wreaked havoc at McGee Park, where the free dental clinic is taking place, said event co-chair Dr. Chuck Schumacher. By 10:30 p.m. Thursday, more than a foot of water cascaded through the park, leaving piles of mud and debris outside the clinic area and in the parking lot.

"We ran into a snag with the rain," Schumacher said. "But the county has been wonderful and had gone overboard to clean up the debris and help make this happen."

The rain also caused a break in a Lee Acres water main, which affected the park's water pressure, effectively shutting down the on-site water sources.

While the dental stations have their own water sources, lack of water could have been a problem for plumbing and volunteer services. Last-minute donations -- water from Cascade Water and Coffee Service, ice from Twice The Ice to keep food for the volunteers cold and portable toilets from Serrano's -- allowed the clinic to continue.

"All volunteer services are still up and running," said event co-chair Dr. John McNeill. "The whole community has really stepped up to make what could have been a real crisis go away."

Several companies donated equipment for the massive clinic. Henry Schein Dental, for example, donated equipment, including a panoramic X-ray machine, a microscope used in root canals and disposable dental supplies like cotton swabs and bibs.

"The doctors' clinical expertise is invaluable, but without this state-of-the-art equipment and technology, they wouldn't be able to provide this level of care," said Brandon Bergman, the company's regional manager for New Mexico. "We're so excited to be part of such a great event."

More than a thousand volunteers helped patients in the clinic.

Taniisha Billy, with the San Juan College Dental Hygiene Program, talks about cavities and dentures with Eva Brown, of Carson, during the New Mexico
Taniisha Billy, with the San Juan College Dental Hygiene Program, talks about cavities and dentures with Eva Brown, of Carson, during the New Mexico Mission of Mercy dental clinic on Friday at McGee Park in Farmington. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)

One of those volunteers, Rose Salcetti, has volunteered with seven Mission of Mercy events. Salcetti, who lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., says she enjoys hearing the patients' heart-warming stories.

"It's great to be able to make a difference for people like these who sorely need dental care," she said.

One of those patients was Shiprock resident Jeff Silago, who came to the clinic with a cracked tooth. Silago was laid off from his job six months ago and hasn't seen a dentist in more than a year.

After receiving an initial evaluation Friday, Silago learned that his tooth needed to be pulled and that he will need a filling on another tooth.

"I like the idea that the dentists are from all over, rather than just from one place," he said.

Another patient waiting to receive treatment Friday was Farmington resident Kathleen Carillo, who hasn't been to a dentist in 25 years.

"I have three girls, and they were my priority," Carillo said. "But I've started having some pain issues and decided to come. I was hoping it wasn't as bad as I feared. They said I just need a few fillings and instruction on gum care."

Carillo said she has had problems obtaining dental insurance. She spent more than $1,000 on insurance that was fraudulent, she said.

"It's sad that some companies are preying on people in need who don't have insurance," she said. "We're all hoping health care changes will change things for dental insurance, also."

Mike Moxey with the New Mexico Dental Association agrees that changes are needed to help those without dental care insurance.

"We understand that charity is not the answer to our problem. We need to make dental care a priority of legislators," he said. "This clinic is so inspirational from a community standpoint, but we have issues that need to be talked about so we can keep meeting peoples' needs."

Leigh Black Irvin covers health for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4610 and lirvin@daily-times.com Follow her @irvindailytimes on Twitter.