Nancy Guenther Chapman for CTNewsJunkie
Beth Carter of New Rochelle, N.Y., is triaged Friday at the Connecticut Mission of Mercy dental clinic in Bridgeport. (Nancy Guenther Chapman for CTNewsJunkie)

Rain did not dampen Beth Carter’s spirits early Friday, even if she had been in line for nearly a day. Carter said she was thrilled — after eight years she was finally seeing a dentist.

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Carter, who opened her mouth to show quite a few missing molars left of her tongue, drove to Bridgeport from of New Rochelle, N.Y., on Thursday for the 6th annual Connecticut Mission of Mercy, a free dental clinic. Unfortunately, she discovered, the event was to begin on Friday. She waited outside the Webster Bank Arena from 10:30 a.m. Thursday until 6 a.m. Friday in the damp, cool air, watching the rain fall from underneath an overhang.

Carter was one of about 200 people who spent the night there, and one of about 500 in line when the doors opened, event publicist Dan Tapper said.

“It’s never too far to come and get the things you need,” said Carter, cheerfully. “I’m glad I made it.”

Another man, from Milford, who was also standing in line, said not having good teeth made it difficult to get a job.

There were 250-300 dentists in the arena, Tapper said. There were also hygienists, dental assistants, runners — you name it — about 1,500 people, all of them volunteers, looking to help people in need, he said.

Dentist Lauren Consonni of Farmington did triage on Carter. This is her fourth year of volunteering at the clinic.

“I think it’s a really great opportunity to help people that are looking for dental care and are unable to get it any other way,” she said. “It’s a really fun event, great to meet people. Everyone is very appreciative and very happy. … The amount of need is incredible. It’s amazing that all of these practitioners come and give of their time to take care of it.”

Dr. Bryan Wilson worked nearby. He said has also donates his time in Haiti. It’s a way to give back, he said.

It was also his fourth year at CTMOM.

At 6:49 a.m. 154 people had signed in, workers said. While the line of people holding umbrellas had gone to the far end of the building at 6, everyone waiting outside at that point was under the overhang.

“There’s fewer people here today maybe because of the weather,” Consonni said. “But there is always a really good crowd.”

The clinic can serve up to 1,100 people a day, Tapper said. More than $294,000 in dental care had already been given out as of 10:15 a.m. Organizers hoped that television exposure would bring in more people. It worked — at about 1:45 p.m., Tapper said the arena was filled to capacity. The doors had closed at 1:15 p.m., according to the CTMOM Facebook page. 

Carter didn’t seem to mind the assembly line atmosphere of her dental care. After triage she stood as an X-ray machine circled her head. Then she was sent into the cavernous arena, past the curtains hiding the “numbing area,” past the people waiting to give advice on flossing to people on their way out, and past the rows of dentist chairs. She was eventually led to a grandstand seat, near the oral surgery area, to wait her turn to get a partial prosthetic.

She talked to a woman who had seen her on Facebook — honored on the CTMOM page as the first person in line – and who had shared the photo on her own Facebook page.

Carter explained her earliness. “I got here, no one’s here,” she said. “I should have volunteered, I had been here a while. Next year I think I will.”

She said she works as a caregiver but could not get care for her teeth, as dental care is so-expensive.

There are roughly 500,000 to 600,000 Connecticut residents without dental insurance, a service that employers are likely to cut first in hard economic times because of its high premiums, according to the Connecticut State Dental Association Executive Director Carol Dingeldey.

Without molars on the left side of her mouth, she said she chews with her front teeth.

“It’s changed a lot in my life,” she said. “Trying to hide it, not smile too much, be careful how you talk. Smile with your mouth closed. I’m looking forward to having this done. I really am.”

Nancy Guenther Chapman for CTNewsJunkie
Beth Carter of New Rochelle, N.Y. (Nancy Guenther Chapman for CTNewsJunkie)

The wet weather was working out well for her. There weren’t many people outside, which meant she could get her prosthetic and then get back in line to get a cavity on a front tooth filled, she said.

“That should give me a full smile,” she said. “Oh gosh, I would love that. Just the thought of that. I might smile all the way home.”

This is the sixth annual dental clinic CTMOM has sponsored. The clinic will open again Saturday at 6 a.m.

Nancy Guenther Chapman is the editor of Nancy On Norwalk, a news site.