The two-day Oklahoma Mission of Mercy event taking place in Stillwater provided one of society’s most needed services, dental care, to hundreds of people during the first day of the event on Friday.

The first day saw the event serve more than 700 people, as around 450 people stayed in the overnight waiting area on Thursday night.

The event needed thousands of volunteers. People who volunteered included dental students, dental professionals and hundreds of others who volunteered their time to help with things such as registering patients, handing out food and many other tasks.

Dr. Chris Leslie of Cornerstone Family Dentistry in Stillwater, and the co-chair of the 2020 Mission of Mercy, said it was a pleasure to see all the aspects of the event come together.

“It’s amazing, and a little bit relieving,” Leslie said. “During the planning phase, you always wonder, ‘OK, is everything going to go smoothly, how is everything going to turn out?’ So far, it has really turned out how we planned it. There were some minor hiccups along the way, but ultimately, lots of people showed up, lots of volunteers showed up. Everyone’s being treated and getting their main concern addressed. Volunteers feel good about what they’ve done for the community, so it’s turned out really great.”

The cost of dental care is something that has grown increasingly more expensive over the years, resulting in many people finding themselves in a situation of not being able to afford the dental care they need. With something like the Oklahoma Mission of Mercy providing free dental care to anyone who shows up, it allows those folks to receive dental care they might not otherwise be able to.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Otie Lowe, of McAlester, said. “I’ve tried to get work done where I live in McAlester, and the price was out of my range. So I thought, ‘Maybe I should try something else.’ It’s just expensive getting dental work done, and it’s only gotten more expensive over the years. So something like this free dental clinic is just wonderful.”

The Oklahoma Mission of Mercy’s goal was to provide patients with their most pressing oral issue. The event also made sure to accompany the free service with dentist referral help so that people who came from out of town could find a dentist in their area who could follow up with them on their procedure. There was also a way of providing people who received treatment with prescriptions through a pharmacy set up in the event space.

Even with long wait times and a majority of the day spent waiting to be serviced, people were out in full force to take advantage of what has become a huge annual event in Oklahoma. Leslie said the large number of people who attended the event Friday, and with a similar turnout expected Saturday, that it shows how much dental care is needed and how willing people are to take advantage of a free dental clinic.

“I think it speaks to the need. The greater need just that, you could run a clinic like this every day of the year and it would get utilized about how it has been this weekend,” Leslie said. “We hope that we can set the tone or set the example, and maybe other clinics will open like this will begin and more people will be treated … that’s ultimately the goal.”

It is expected that there will be a similar amount of people who will be able to be serviced on Saturday. Overnight waiting for Saturday began at 8 p.m. on Friday, and there is a possibility more people try to attend the Saturday portion of the event due to it being on the weekend.

Leslie said it is usually around noon when the capacity for patient registration has been filled.

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