MADISON (WKOW) – What's being called the country's largest charitable dental clinic is here in Madison Friday and Saturday.
Organizers say about 1,500 patients got dental care for free just within the first day of the two-day clinic.
People lined up outside and inside the Alliant Energy Center's Exhibition Hall, but these people couldn't be happier to wait.
"It was very long, but it's worth it," says Consuela Medina.
She says she got up at 12:30 a.m. on Friday and got a ride with a friend to come to the clinic all the way from Racine.
Travis and Amelia Nowak came from Waterloo with the whole family.
"We were shocked when we got in line. We got here at 5:30 a.m. We thought we got here pretty early," Amelia says.
But it wasn't early when you consider the first patient actually arrived at 8:30 yesterday morning.
That grew to a crowd of about 800 when doors opened at 5:30 a.m.
In just one day, the hall is transformed into a dental clinic with more than 1,500 volunteers offering everything from cleanings to fillings to extractions.
"It is expensive. We don't have dental insurance," Amelia says. "We spent $6,000 back in November fixing our son's teeth. We just don't have the money left for everybody else."
She says her three children got their teeth cleaned, she was in line for fillings and her husband needed a teeth pulled.
The clinic continues Saturday at 5:30 a.m., and by its end organizers expect to have helped more than 3,000 patients with about $1.75 million worth of dental care.
Mission of Mercy got $250,000 in donations to pay for the work space and dental equipment.
"We get a lot of hugs," says Michael Cahlamer, the clinic's lead for oral surgery. "They're so appreciative."
He says there was a 3.5-hour wait for oral surgery Friday afternoon.
"Last year, we were just shy of 1,800 extractions. This year, we will surpass that," Cahlamer says.
That's because they have 14 more surgeons than last year.
The need is great, and the work can be emotional.
"It really hurts to see the people hurting this much," Cahlamer says.
Still, he says he is proud to provide even a temporary solution to a very complex problem.
This year, Mission of Mercy is hosting clinics like this one in 18 different states.
They are planning to expand it to 25 states by next year.
The organization does want to stress that people should not wait for the annual clinic to get care if they are in pain. Instead, you can click here for a list of low-cost dental clinics WDA's Mission of Mercy provides on its website.