Rod Olson, 50, had been saving his pennies for years. He knew he had bad teeth. He knew he needed dentures. But a couple years back, his daughter also got some bad dental news. She needed 15 fillings and a set of $6,000 braces.
“I took the money I saved for my dentures and gave her braces,” he said.
But his daughter’s braces didn’t change the sharp pain in his mouth when he ate, drank cold water or even breathed cold air.
On Friday, Olson sat in the waiting room at Merrill Orthodontics, waiting for his turn in the dentist’s chair. He knew at least one tooth was coming out and hoped that maybe it would be more. He also knew it wouldn’t break his bank account to rid his mouth of pain.
Friday marked the fifth annual Pain Free Christmas Dental Day, an annual event hosted by Serve Wenatchee Valley and North Central District Dental Society, where some local dentists donate their time to work on the teeth of those who aren’t able to pay.
The four chairs in the back room of the Merrill’s orthodontist office were filled with folks with similar stories. Some simply didn’t have insurance. Others, like Olson, had savings wiped out by other causes. For some, dental work was a luxury they couldn’t afford. The four dentists working in Thomas and Robert Merrill’s office didn’t do root canals or dentures on Friday, and nobody was there for a standard teeth cleaning. But for those folks with toothaches in need of fillings or teeth that needed pulling, it just might have been the happiest day of the season.
In years past, dentists, hygienists, office personal and volunteers have worked a full day to put the event on. This year, they turned it into a half day but were still able to see about 135 people between 19 dentists in four offices. The program added an East Wenatchee location for the first time this year.
“It really is a wonderful gift,” said Bob Shepard, executive director of Serve Wenatchee Valley. “This amounts to probably close to $10,000 in dental work that’s gong out the door.”
Before they were admitted to the offices, prospective patients went through a triage session at Serve Wenatchee Valley, where they were screened to make sure whatever hurts is something the dentists were able to cure on Friday. With more than 135 people hoping for dental care, organizers wanted to be sure the dentists could make a difference to each patient. If they couldn’t be helped, Shepard wanted them to know beforehand.
“They just needed to know before they took a slot that there’s nothing we can do to save this tooth,” Shepard said.
Overall, Shepard is chalking the event up as a success. He thinks 80 to 90 percent of the patients this year haven’t been to Pain Free Christmas before. Hopefully, that means the ones treated the four previous years are still feeling good.
“There are not many times you have people hug you after you extract teeth,” laughed orthodontist Thomas Merrill.
Kaylin Bettinger: 664-7149