Person of the Week: Missions of Mercy

March 19, 2010 5:33:17 PM PDT
Imagine rows and rows of dental chairs filling a National Guard armory with dentists lined up to offer free care. That's exactly what happened last weekend in Durham.

Missions of Mercy - a free dental clinic sponsored by the North Carolina Dental Society - has helped hundreds in the Triangle and thousands across the state.

"This is one way that our profession can give back," explained Dr. Bill Blaylock.

Blaylock is head of Missions of Mercy. Each year, it holds 12 free clinics across the state. This month's was the first in Durham - and one of the biggest. Eight hundred people were treated for everything from fillings to extractions.

"The demographics have changed a little bit," said Blaylock. "We're seeing more and more people who had good paying jobs in the past - have had good dental health benefits in the past - and lost their jobs."

One patient taking advantage of the free care was Janice Lee.

"I was told I had to go to an oral surgeon. I'm not working right now. I don't have dental benefits," she said. "I was kind of tolerating it until I heard about this and I thought 'Oh God, this is a blessing.'"

While Blaylock oversees the clinics, he won't take credit for their success. He says hundreds of volunteers from all over the state are devoted to the cause, and not just dentists and hygienists, but people outside the profession who see the need and want to help.

Dental students also get involved.

"It gets them trained while they're in school to think about service - giving back, giving of their time. They see, as students, how important it is to help people," he said.

Like so many of the volunteers, Blaylock says Missions of Mercy is his passion and he plans to keep it running as long as there's a need.

"Make it just better and better and see more and more people every year," he said.

Missions of Mercy estimates it delivered nearly a half million dollars in free dental care at the Durham event alone.

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