Lining up for free dental work - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Lining up for free dental work

By Taylor Hemness - email

Most of the people in the tent outside Smith Dental Care in Tyler on Friday night have pain because of problems with their teeth, and don't have any insurance. The dentist office isn't open, but it will be early Saturday morning.

"I've got one in the back I need to get filled, and get some whitening," said one man.

"I have some rotten front teeth, and some jaw teeth that keep getting abscess," a woman told us.

Another man came all the way from Arkansas.

"When you're teeth's hurting bad, and you can't eat, you'll do lots of things," he said.

The program they're lined up for is called "Dentistry from the Heart." Just about the time the sun comes up on Saturday, a small army of dentists, hygienists, staffers, and volunteers will open the doors, offering free care for patients. On a normal day, the office sees 30 to 50 patients. Saturday, they'll see 350.

"Most of it is pain, and emergency treatment," said Dr. Roy Smith, the dentist in charge of the program. "It's just to keep them from having to go to the emergency room. It flies by. And I think it's just an exciting thing."

Dental work is expensive. In fact, the office estimates they'll do about $150,000 worth of dental work on Saturday. The office hygienist told us the expense, and the fear, is why so many people skip the trip to the dentist.

"It's one of those things that fall through the cracks," said Connie Gulley. "People need it, it's actually a very important part of their overall health. But it kind of gets put on the back burner for other things in their life."

That's why the folks in line Friday night say free care is too good to pass up. Dr. Smith told us that he wishes he could give free care every day, and because of that, Saturday is his favorite day of the year.

"I'm always fearful that no one will show up," Smith said. "But every year there's more than we can take care of. It's just an enjoyable thing to watch."

Registration for the free dental care starts Saturday morning at 5:30, but the clinic suggests people get there earlier, because once they reach 350 people, that's it.

There are certain procedures that are excluded, and you are also ineligible if you're pregnant, or on blood-thinning medication.

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