The line started forming Thursday afternoon outside the Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato. By dawn Friday, it snaked around the block.
No, the crowds weren’t awaiting tickets to a hot concert or sporting event — but rather to a cool dental clinic.
The Mission of Mercy, a massive free dental clinic, took over the floor of the downtown convention center Friday and Saturday. More than 2,000 people — from grandparents to kids in strollers — poured in to get their teeth filled, fixed or pulled. Some even got partial dentures.
“What surprises me is how we change people’s lives,” said Alejandro Aguirre, a Plymouth dentist who started the project three years ago through the Minnesota Dental Association and the Minnesota Dental Foundation.
“We have people with front teeth missing, kids with so much dental pain it’s hard to concentrate at school. There was a man from last year we helped, who brought his family this year … now to volunteer.”
Patients come from all walks of life, from workers who had lost their dental insurance to senior citizens to the working poor who never had dental insurance in the first place.
“We had one patient who biked 50 miles just to come to the event,” Aguirre said.
They’re all paired with one of the more than 1,000 volunteer helpers who guide them through the process.
But it’s the dental professionals who get the real workout. On Friday, for example, 250 patients had about 1,000 teeth extracted. Aguirre said his brother “did six root canals in an hour.”
Cavity filling and teeth cleaning, however, are the most requested services.
When the doors closed Saturday, patients had received $850,000 in free dental care.
“Clearly, vulnerable people are not receiving the dental treatment they need,” said Dr. Michael Perpich, president of the Minnesota Dental Association and a distant relative of late Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich. “Until this problem is solved, the MDA will continue to work with lawmakers on a better solution to improve the broken public system.”