155 Reasons to Smile
The sun had finally risen when the number eight was called, and an elderly woman stepped forward, wrapped in a fringed fleece blanket. The crowd of strangers around her clapped and cheered.
Ida Morrison of Apex had spent a cold night in the parking lot of Cary Family Dental, determined to take advantage of the practice’s second annual Dentistry From the Heart event, held April 13.
“My tooth is sore,” Morrison explained. “I’ve not been to the dentist in 10 or 15 years. I don’t have any insurance.”
She’s not alone: National research reports that more than one in four Americans with private health insurance does not have dental coverage.
The first patients in line here arrived at 4:30 on Friday afternoon.
Camping out since 8 p.m. on Friday were Dwayne and Amber Shepherd of Cary. Dwayne works to support the family while Amber studies with plans to open a day care center.
“My husband heard about this on the news. His tooth’s been bothering him for a long time, and care is not affordable,” said Amber.
To address that issue locally, Cary Family Dental founder Dr. Allan Acton again hosted Dentistry from the Heart, via the national nonprofit dedicated to providing free care by dentists who donate their resources.
Acton, named a Lifetime Qualified Member of the Crown Council this year for his ongoing commitment to professional excellence, in the past sponsored the Cary Smile Makeover with Cary Magazine before expanding his charitable efforts.
“The Smile Makeover was a great opportunity to renovate one person’s smile,” Acton said. “But one of the things I like about Dentistry from the Heart is that instead of helping one person, we’re able to help many.”
Make that 155 people, all seen between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. that day by Acton and seven other dentists. The team, including hygienists, provided free fillings, extractions and cleanings, with a monetary value of $46,000.
Sixty volunteers at the event included dental students from UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State.
“It was a busy day,” Acton said, noting the numbers were similar to 2012’s. “But we have such a great team, and I’m proud to be part of it.
“There’s an overwhelming need, both locally and in North Carolina, for dental care, and we’re thrilled to be able to provide service,” he said. “Budgets are tight, and people may not go to the dentist.
“During Dentistry from the Heart, I try to take time to appreciate what we’re doing and to hear the stories. It really is all about the person attached to the tooth.”
Inside the practice masked providers bustled, while outside patients sipped free coffee and chatted. Some read; others knitted.
In line since 1 a.m. were Eudora Hunt and her brother, Orson, of Lumberton, with their neighbor Noelia Powell. Eudora’s wisdom teeth came in since her last visit to a dentist four years ago, and they hurt.
“I heard about this on the news in January and wrote it down,” Eudora said. “I haven’t had dental insurance since I got laid off and couldn’t go back to the dentist.”
She has a new job now, but it will be 90 days before her insurance is activated. Orson, 27, has a job, but no insurance; dentists here would soon discover his first-ever cavity.
“There’s a big need — look at all these people,” said Powell, who is unemployed. “This is mind-boggling and touching, that people are willing to give back what they’re blessed with.”
She signed up, post-tooth cleaning, as a volunteer translator for next year’s event.
One by one, patients made their way through the process, most emerging with smiles.
“It was worth it. They were very thorough, and so sweet and kind. It’s a wonderful deed you’re doing,” Powell said with a hug for Acton. “God bless you.”
Dale Young of Apex, in line since 1:30 a.m. with a tooth that was “killing” him, was relieved by its extraction. Ironically, Acton is Young’s dentist, but due to a lack of insurance he hadn’t been seen since 2009.
“Thank you very much for what you’ve done; you’re great,” Young said to Acton. “I feel better now, and I hope to have insurance by next year.”
Shepherd emerged with a supply of gauze and care instructions. Thumbs up, he indicated, as he went in search of his wife. Not far behind came Morrison and her blanket.
“Thank you, Jesus!” she proclaimed. “Oh, it was worth the wait, and I so appreciate it.”
“Overall, everybody was incredibly appreciative of the care,” Acton said. “And for our team, this is the best event we do all year, providing back to the community the skill sets we have.
“We had a great response, and got thanks, hugs and even a few tears. This event brings me joy, and I hope to do it over and over.”
PHOTOGRAPHED BY DAVE SEVERANCE