Michelle Cotton and her husband Dr. Ken Cotton don’t plan on sleeping on Feb. 9 and 10.

At 4:30 a.m., patients will start entering the 2018 Kansas Mission of Mercy free dental clinic in Hutchinson.

“That’s when they allow patients to come in and start doing triage. Then they’ll start seeing patients around 7 a.m. They do that so they can start the process of checking each person’s dental needs,” Michelle Cotton said. “People will start lining up the night before to get in.”

At 32 teeth per mouth, providing dental care for 1,000 to 1,400 people makes for a long day’s work.

“It goes until it’s done, we don’t leave people in the chair,” Michelle Cotton laughed. “We’re there until 5 p.m. or later. You don’t know what you’re going to get into. It’s not like in the office here where you can gauge how your day will go and which patients you’ll see. Here, you won’t know until you get in there.”

The Kansas Dental Charitable Foundation partners with area providers to offer the free dental clinic each year in Kansas. Though the location changes each year, the mission is the same: to provide care to those who need it, for free.

“Some people rely on insurance to pay for dental care and some don’t have dental insurance and this is the only way they can afford to have dental care done. You’ll see all ages there, old and young,” Michelle Cotton said. “(Dr. Ken Cotton) often says this: a lot of people have pain for so long that it becomes a way of life. After they have treatment, they can’t hardly believe how much their overall health improves. The impact is immeasurable when they’re able to talk and smile without covering their mouth.”

This will be the KDCF’s 17th KMOM event since its inception in 2003. To date, Kansas dentists have provided 27,821 Kansans free dental care valued at over $16.4 million through KMOM.  

Dr. Ken Cotton will be attending his 13th clinic, and this will be Michelle Cotton’s 10th.

“We go back every year because it’s a way to give back to the community. Part of the reason why we feel like we’re here is to serve others,” Michelle Cotton said. “There is great need for this. People will come from across state lines for this.”

Dr. Seth Prochaska, at McPherson Dental Care, will be attending for the first time this year as a provider.

“When I was in dental school, I was able to attend and do some treatment, but it was pretty limited, so this year I’m fully licensed and can provide a lot more, which I’m excited for that,” Prochaska said. “I think it’s great that they do this. Dental services are expensive so if we can use this to help people take care of the basics, I think it’s great to provide that for communities.”

Not only do KMOM clinics provide care for communities, they also provide opportunities for those like Prochaska to find their passion for dentistry.

“I didn’t come from a dental background, I came from a farming background, so in order to learn a little more about dentistry, I came in contact with a dentist, an assistant and some oral surgeons who provided me the opportunity to work with them on a Mission of Mercy,” Prochaska said. “So I’ve gone to a Colorado, Kansas and Missouri events with those mentors and that got me great exposure and kept me on the road to becoming a dentist, all while helping people.”

The 17th annual clinic will be held on Feb. 9 and 10 at the Kansas State Fairgrounds, with clinic doors opening at 4:30 a.m. No appointments are needed and children and adults will be seen on a first-come, first-served basis.

Services will be limited to cleanings, fillings and extractions, but no crowns or dentures. No eligibility, income or residency requirements are needed. Patients should bring a list of current medications, allergies and health conditions. Biscuits and gravy will be served for breakfast and a hotdog with chips will be served for lunch at no charge, but individuals should also bring snacks and water.

Contact Cheyenne Derksen Schroeder by email at cderksen@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter at @MacSentinel.