Mission of Mercy free dental clinic gets off to smooth start at McGee Park

Event continues through Saturday afternoon with bigger crowd expected

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Dozens of patients receive care during the New Mexico Mission of Mercy free dental clinic on Friday, Sept. 23 at the McGee Park Convention Center between Farmington and Bloomfield.
  • The two-day event is presented by the New Mexico Dental Association.
  • The last time the clinic was held in San Juan County nearly 1,000 patients were treated.
  • Patients can receive cleanings, fillings, crowns, temporary dentures, extractions, X-rays and more at the clinic.

FARMINGTON — Business may not have been as brisk as organizers anticipated on Sept. 23 during the opening day of the New Mexico Mission of Mercy dental clinic at the McGee Park Convention Center, but that was good news for the patients who did show up to take advantage of the free services.

"It's been going excellent," Dr. Julius Manz, a professor at the San Juan College dental hygiene program, said of the clinic's first several hours. "I'd like to see maybe a few more patients. But the reality is, we're able to do more for fewer patients."

Mike Moxie, the director of public information for the New Mexico Dental Association, which presented the clinic, echoed that assessment.

"It provides an opportunity for people here today to have a couple of extra things done," he said. "If it was jam packed, we wouldn't be able to do that."

As the hour approached noon on Sept. 23, traffic through the building was steady. There was no line to get in, allowing patients to immediately begin the process of being checked in, receiving a brief dental education, being assessed for their needs, then waiting for a chair to open up so they could be treated by a volunteer dentist.

The New Mexico Mission of Mercy free dental clinic continues through Saturday, Sept. 24 at the McGee Park Convention Center.

Manz was stationed at the dental determination station, where those initial assessments of a patient's needs were made. Manz said he has volunteered at seven of the eight Mission of Mercy clinics that have taken place across New Mexico, including the 2013 clinic in San Juan County when nearly 1,000 patients were seen over two days.

"I was fortunate enough to be the chair nine years ago. This is a lot more fun, just to do the work," he said. "I don't have to run the thing."

Organizers are expecting a bigger turnout on Sept. 24, the final day of the clinic. Devin Neeley, the spokesman for San Juan County, which served as one of the event's prime sponsors, said the relatively small crowd on Friday likely was a function of people being allowed to make an online appointment for the free clinic, the first time that service was offered, and the fact that it was a weekday, when many potential patients were working and couldn't get away for the event.

Dr. Christopher Morgan works on a set of flippers, or temporary dentures, on Friday, Sept. 23 during the New Mexico Mission of Mercy free dental clinic at the McGee Park Convention Center.

Approximately 150 patients had been seen by 11 a.m. Friday, and most of the 50 dentists and dozens of dental assistants who volunteered for the event were staying busy. Moxie pointed out that all of those dental health professionals from across the state were there on their own time and even paid for their own transportation and accommodations.

A small line of approximately two dozen people had been waiting outside the convention center when it opened its doors in the predawn darkness that morning. First in line was Shiprock resident Vazmire Amore-Tolly, who was joined by her four children. Amore-Tolly said the family showed up at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 22 and camped overnight.

Shiprock resident Robert Lopez Jr. is all smiles after receiving a set of flippers, or temporary dentures, at the New Mexico Mission of Merce free dental clinic Friday, Sept. 23 at the McGee Park Convention Center.

The member of her family who needed the most attention was her 17-year-old son Robert Lopez Jr., who had lost all his front teeth and some of his back teeth in an accident. Before lunchtime on Friday, he had received a set of flippers — temporary dentures designed to last six months to a year that were created at the clinic — during his session with Dr. Robert Thompson.

"We were able to do a flipper until he can get something more permanent," said Dr. Jennifer Thompson, the event cochair. "But at least he can smile now."

Doors for the second day of the clinic will open at 5:15 a.m. Saturday, and Moxie said patients will be admitted through late afternoon, until around 4 p.m. The process of being checked in, evaluated and treated takes approximately two hours, in addition to any wait that may take place, Neeley said.

Patients at the New Mexico Mission of Mercy free dental clinic at the McGee Park Convention Center receive a variety of services, including fillings, crowns, root canals and X-rays.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.