Zachary Snider has been standing in the cold outside of the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission on Trade Street since 11:05 p.m. It is now 7:00 a.m. the next morning and he is finally sitting in the waiting room, ready to see a dentist.
“I had a seizure last week where I cracked a tooth, so I need it pulled,” Snider said.
This is the first time that Snider has been to the Rescue Mission’s free dental clinic, which takes place on the second and fourth Thursday of each month.
“I have a lot of doctor bills so it is nice not to have a doctor bill,” Snider said.
Snider was the first person to be seen by a dentist. The free clinic sees patients on a first come first serve basis and only the first ten people in line will be seen by one of two dentists.
“The doors open at 6:30 a.m. and they get the first ten patients,” Karen Burroughs, an employee of the Rescue Mission, said. “They go in, the nurses take their vital signs to see if there are any problems, and then they come here at about 7:00 a.m.”
Once a nurse has checked a person’s vitals at 710 N. Trade St., the patients walk over to 718 N. Trade St., where they are seen by one of the dentists. Each dentist examines roughly five patients and the examinations finish around 9:00 a.m. The patients are limited to receiving simple extractions, no surgeries or wisdom teeth removal, according to Burroughs.
Dr. Robert Stowe has been volunteering his time at the free dental clinic since he graduated from dental school in 1998. He is part of a private practice in Winston-Salem called Pruitt, Miller, Stowe, Steinbicker and Taylor Dentistry.
“I think it is a blessing to those who cannot get help anywhere else,” Stowe said. “There is a lot of need throughout our state, although I believe it is unrealistic to think that free clinics can take care of it all.”
The Rescue Mission has been holding the free dental clinic for over 15 years, according to Burroughs. The Winston-Salem Rescue Mission is a non-denominational service ministry that shelters those in need, according to its website. The free dental clinic is just one part of the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission.
The main purpose behind this dental clinic is to “treat individuals who cannot afford to pay for their health care and do not have health insurance,” according to the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission website.
On the second Thursday of each month, people wait outside in order to be seen by a dentist that day. On the fourth Thursday of every month, though, the first ten people in line are given vouchers to see Dr. William Warren at a later date. Patients then set up an appointment with his office and go when they are available but, once again, they are only limited to simple extractions.
Harley Gillenwater was the ninth person in line last Thursday, and waited about an hour and a half once the doors opened to get his tooth pulled. He was standing outside at 4:30 a.m.
“I went because I just switched jobs and my insurance hasn’t kicked in yet,” Gillenwater said. “Also to see a dentist is so expensive, I can’t afford it.”
After his extraction, Gillenwater praised the dentist for his work.
“I’m lucky that such a place exists, the way health care is,” Gillenwater said.
Most people who attend the Rescue Mission’s free dental clinic are struggling to pay for health care. The Forsyth County Department of Public Heath offers the Cleveland Avenue Dental Clinic but patients need insurance in order to be seen by a dentist, according to the Forsyth County Department of Public Health website.
“A lot of people that are just below the middle class and some middle class as well, can’t afford their co-pay or afford to have dental insurance,” Mashica Jefferson Tobias, public health dental hygienist for Forsyth County Department of Public Health, said.
Even if they stand in line for the free dental clinic at the Rescue Mission, some are still turned away at the door because of the 10-person limit.
“People still get left needing the free treatment,” Tobias said. “They can try and go back and see if they can be seen again but it might take them a couple of tries.”
Even though the free dental clinic benefits the first ten people, there aren’t many resources for people in need of dental care.
“We don’t have enough providers willing to volunteer to meet the great need,” Stowe said. “The government needs a better safety net program to help these people.”