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To tell the tooth: Dentists provide free dental care for hundreds in Duluth

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Many people dread a visit to the dentist, but hundreds of Minnesotans would gladly endure a session in the dentist's chair--if they could only afford it.

For a second day on Saturday, hundreds of children and adults who need dental work got much-needed help at the Minnesota Mission of Mercy, a two-day free dental clinic held in Duluth. Sponsored by the Minnesota Dental Association, the event brings together needy patients and volunteer dentists and dental professionals.

By the end of the day Saturday, the Minnesota Dental Association said that a total of 1,143 patients had been seen over the two days, receiving care valued at approximately $1 million.

The Northland's News Center noted that the floor of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC) was transformed into a large dental clinic with 125 chairs and almost 1,000 volunteers.

The Duluth News Tribune reported a crowd of eager patients were waiting for the volunteers when the doors opened at 5:15 Friday morning, with 272 people waiting inside the old arena. The first patient arrived Wednesday to secure his place at the head of the line.

MPR News described the scene like this: "Dozens of people slept on the cold, concrete floor, or in their cars, eager for a dental appointment in a free clinic. Many were desperate to have aching teeth pulled, or cavities filled."

The story went on to quote health care experts who call dental care "a lower priority" than other medical needs. The MPR story cited research from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which finds that about a quarter of children and adults under 65 have untreated tooth decay. It went on to say that in 2014, only 35 percent of adults visited a dentist.

Word about the free dental clinic had spread; patients with aching teeth or persistent dental problems arrived from all parts of the state. The Duluth News Tribune's story reported that a busload of about 30 Amish people from Bertha, about an hour west of Brainerd, arrived at 4 a.m. Friday.

WDIO reported that on Friday alone, 650 patients were treated. Many patients received multiple procedures. Similar numbers were expected by the time Saturday's efforts concluded.

This is the fourth year the Minnesota Dental Foundation and Minnesota Dental Association have put on the free clinic. The next Minnesota Mission of Mercy will be in Moorhead in 2016.

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