As hygienist Candace Garber reached for her cleaning tools, Marlene Gore leaned back and did what everyone does when they visit the dentist: She started thinking of a way to distract herself.
Maybe, the Astoria woman joked, she could count the light fixtures high above her. Like the dozens of other people who attended a free dental clinic at the Astoria Armory on Sunday, it had been years since she’d been to the dentist.
The all-day event, hosted by the nonprofit Caring Hands Worldwide, officially started at 9 a.m., but around 25 people were already signed up and waiting for cleanings, fillings, extractions and other dental work well before the hour struck.
It was the nonprofit’s third year hosting a one-day clinic in Astoria.
“There doesn’t seem to be quite as much need here as in other areas, but there’s always a need,” said Randy Meyer, executive director of Caring Hands Worldwide.
The nonprofit provides free dental clinics and mobile offices in rural Oregon and internationally.
The people they serve either don’t have dental insurance, lack the money or don’t have access to dental work.
Trinka Watling, of Astoria, couldn’t even remember the last time she had any dental care. The retiree hoped to have a volunteer dentist examine a broken tooth. She suspected she had at least one cavity.
Jilann Haymes, 19, planned to get a basic cleaning.
State Rep. Cedric Hayden, a Roseburg Republican and a co-founder of Caring Hands Worldwide, was on hand as a dentist. Four dentists and one hygienist volunteered for the day, all from outside of the area.
In the street clinics Hayden runs in Eugene most Fridays and at clinics like the one in Astoria, he ends up doing dental work for a lot of veterans. Last week, about half the people he saw in Eugene were veterans. Many veterans are not covered for dental work through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“So that’s a population that we really work to serve,” he said.
People on Medicaid are another group. They might be eligible for dental coverage, but the paperwork it takes to access services can be daunting.
“These are people who may not have a phone, internet access or even a home,” Hayden said.
At the free clinics, he and others address emergency dental needs, but also connect people to services.