GRAY, Tenn. - Hundreds are seeking care through the weekend at a Remote Area Medical Clinic at the Appalachian Fairgrounds. The clinic offers free care to those without insurance or underinsured.
Tiffany Knowles cannot remember the last time she saw a dentist, but she is hoping this visit can cure her tooth pain. She said the pain is so bad, she suffers headaches.
Knowles said, "I'm ready for no more pain, so hopefully, they can help me out, and I don't have to worry about the pain anymore."
She is one of many living in the region without dental insurance coverage. The only way they see a dentist is through RAM clinics.
"Tri-Cities has so much lack of dental care and lack of availability to dental care with insurance. Just general problems with the system," Bo Westmoreland said. Westmoreland is a dentist in Johnson City who has volunteered at RAM clinics several years.
He said, "The overwhelming thing that we see here is infections, swellings, destroyed teeth, so they have to come out."
Westmoreland and Amber Leach met at a RAM clinic several years ago. Now, they partner together at clinics across the region. Leach is retired after 40 years in dentistry, but she keeps her license just to volunteer at these clinics.
"We have been blessed to have the profession that we have had over the years and for me, it's time to give back," Leach said.
They estimate they see about 50-60 patients a day.
Leach said, "A couple of years ago, the first day he and I pulled over 300 teeth."
The services help patients like Lauren Harmon, who has health coverage, but it is not enough to cover the services she needs.
"I do have insurance through my work. I'm covered through the state as well. Just sometimes those services don't always help, especially when you're over an age and can't get dental or vision through the state," Harmon said. "Anything that is besides rent or food, it's just hard."
The RAM clinic will continue at the Appalachian Fairgrounds in Gray Saturday and Sunday.
Tickets are given out beginning at 3 each morning and the event wraps up in the early afternoon each day.
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