Her alarm rang before sunrise, but Sheena Harris didn’t mind losing a few hours of sleep for free dental care.
A few weeks before, while at a food pantry, Harris, 44, of Gaithersburg heard about the Mid-Maryland Mission of Mercy and Health Equity Festival, a two-day free dental clinic at the University of Maryland's XFINITY Center.
“I want to keep my teeth in my mouth,” said Harris who is at risk for periodontitis, a gum disease that if left untreated can lead to the loss of teeth. To prevent periodontitis, Harris needs a deep cleaning to remove plaque and tartar, so she left on the first bus toward College Park at 5 a.m. to receive free dental treatment, she said.
Three buses later, Harris was turned away at the door, because the clinic had reached capacity for the day.
The flyer for the free dental clinic said doors opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 5 p.m. Harris and Yolanda Sanchez, both thought they were early, but the first 100 patients had registered the day before, said Pam Shields, a festival volunteer. And the other roughly 700 patients waited in line as early as 3 a.m., she said.
“I came early,” said Sanchez, 44, of Bladensburg. “I would understand if I came later in the day, like 1 p.m., but it is still morning.”
Sanchez, a mother of two school-aged children, said she couldn’t wait in line early, because in the morning, she feeds her children and walks them to the school. Because Sanchez wasn’t familiar with the location of the event, she asked her daughter to drop her off.
“I took off work in the morning,” said Maribel Sanchez, 18, of Bladensburg. Maribel, Yolanda’s daughter, estimates that she lost about $100 in commission by missing work.
Taima Gomez had anticipated a long line and a limit on the services provided, so she made her way to XFINITY Center by 3 a.m.
Gomez, 22, of Greenbelt was among the second group of patients allowed in for free dental treatment.
“My dental insurance doesn’t cover extractions,” said Gomez, “and I couldn’t afford to pay for it myself, so I decided to come here.”
Although Harris did not manage to receive dental care like Gomez, she remained undeterred.
“I’ll make arrangements,” said Harris. “I’ll stay at a friends and come back at 4 a.m.”
Harris said she hasn’t been able to see a dentist in nearly six months, because a car hit her earlier this year, which led to her termination from work.
“I just came back to work,” said Harris. “I have no money.”
Gomez is a University of Maryland student who works part time and attends school full time. With her dental insurance, extractions cost $700, more than Gomez can afford.
But after enduring eight months of pain caused by her wisdom teeth, Gomez was happy to be able to have her wisdom teeth extracted.
“I’m glad there are services available like this,” said Gomez. “This was a great idea, because so many people need dental care.”