Alaskans line up for free dental care

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

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.”

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