• Overcast, mist, light rain
  • 54°
    Overcast, mist, light rain
  • Comment

Alaskans line up for free dental care

Residents of Anchorage, Ketchikan, Fairbanks and Tok line up a day ahead of time

Posted: April 14, 2014 - 12:02am

ANCHORAGE — Alaskans have been lining up for a two-day clinic offering free dental care in Anchorage that was scheduled to begin Friday.

ZhanCai Hanna Lee of Anchorage was the first in line Thursday morning outside the downtown Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center for the effort called the Alaska Mission of Mercy, the Anchorage Daily News reported. People who lined up behind her included residents of Anchorage, Ketchikan, Fairbanks and Tok.

“This right here has been a blessing to us,” said Lee, 59, pointing to the sidewalk sign advertising the clinic.

Lee, who said she lives in transitional housing, is missing her bottom front teeth. Other teeth are broken, and there is a hole where she had a root canal but could not afford a crown. She is hoping to get removable partial dentures to fill the gaps, she said. The free dental care is the only option, according to Lee, who said she was laid off from her job stocking shelves in 2012.

A local couple, dentists Julie Robinson and David Nielsen, organized the effort with the help of volunteers. The goal is to provide free services for as many as 2,000 people who cannot afford dental care.

More than 240 volunteer dentists are set to participate. They will fill, clean and pull teeth, and do root canals and X-rays, among other services including a limited number of removable dentures and temporary retainers to replace missing teeth.

Among others waiting in line Thursday was Bill Westerlund, who drove his mother’s vehicle more than seven hours from Fairbanks. The 30-year-old man spent the night at a cousin’s home before heading to the line.

Westerlund said he thinks he needs a root canal, extractions and his teeth cleaned. He also might need to have some fillings redone. He has shooting pain through his nerves when he chews.

Westerlund, who has been unemployed, said he did odd jobs to earn gas money to make the drive to Anchorage.

“I’ve been trying to squirrel away as much as I can,” he said. “I’m trying to eat more than soft foods.”

  • Comment

Comments (1) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Art Petersen
Art Petersen 04/14/14 - 11:31 am
The medical needs of these people,

and thousands more like them, could have had it through the expansion of medicaid under the ACA. One person denied them this care, Sean Parnell. Why? The governor listed one reason, a lack of trust in the government of the United States.

When people described above become sick enough, the federal and state government assume the cost of care for them anyway, and at a much higher rate. Apparently saving money through wellness and prevention is not among the governor's goals. Additionally, the $2 billion dollars that would have come from the federal government in just the first year would have created healthcare jobs in every Alaska community. For the first three years, the cost of medicaid expansion would have been 100%, and 90% thereafter in perpetuity. The governor claims the federal government will go broke and saddle the state with expanded medicaid. That's not a good argument, though. If that were to happen, then Alaska could close down the expansion and go back to paying the old higher costs of sickness. It's really hard to understand where the governor is coming from. Is it just out of spite that he alone denies healthcare to so many in need of it?

The denial, of course, has a higher cost morally, too. Allowing people to sicken who otherwise could be well is an injustice that cannot be reconciled by any reasonable, ethical ideology.

The medical needs of people such as these described are being met through ACA medicaid expansion in 26 other states. Not Alaska, though. Our tax dollars go to the other states, not to our own. And the thing is, tax payers and citizens of Alaska are paying the bills anyway for sickness when it develops. It raises the costs of hospital care and of healthcare plans by very high amounts. So Alaskans are paying more for the medical treatment of the sick than it would cost to help them keep themselves well.

Great thanks to people like Julie Robinson and David Nielsen of Anchorage for this volunteer effort. It seems such a shame, though, that they need to do it--all because of one person's denial of healthcare to those most in need of it.

Back to Top


  • Switchboard: 907-586-3740
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-586-3740
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Business Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-523-2230
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback