Hundreds of people waited in line for several hours Friday, but it wasn’t for a concert or some other kind of entertainment event. Their teeth beckoned.

The California Dental Association hosted the first day of its two-day dental clinic in Bakersfield. The free service started on Friday and ends Saturday at the Kern County Fairgrounds. Patients are seen on a first-come, first-served basis, and the goal is to provide care to about 2,000 people over the course of the two days.

The clinic includes services such as extractions, fillings, cleanings, root canals and teeth replacements. Before getting work done, all patients are required to attend an educational presentation on how to take better care of their teeth.

“It’s a privilege to be in this profession and be able to help the less fortunate,” said Dr. Craig Yarborough, a San Francisco-area dentist who helps coordinate the clinic. “We’re helping people improve their oral health, giving them confidence. That’s why we do what we do. There’s nothing better than putting a smile on people’s faces.”

More than 1,000 dentists and other dentistry professionals are volunteering their time for the clinic, which is held twice a year at cities across the state.

People started coming in around 5:30 a.m. Friday, and due to registration requirements and the high demand, many wouldn’t see a dentist until about five hours later.

One such person was Cecilia Arango, who hadn’t been to the dentist in several years and wanted to get a broken tooth looked at, as well as get a cleaning.

“It’s a long wait, but it’s worth it,” she said. “I’ve gotten to meet new people and make some new friends.”

Teresa Almond also came early Friday morning to get her teeth worked on. Almond said she didn’t know about the clinic until Friday, when she happened to see an advertisement for it while on her computer.

“I got up to go to work this morning, I got on my computer and that was the first thing I saw,” she said. “I decided to call in at work. This is more important.”

Almond said she’s grateful to the CDA for putting on the free clinic.

“In today’s times, it’s a great service, especially now with the way insurance is going,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to go to a dentist otherwise. I can’t afford it.”

Almond said she hopes the clinic will come back to Bakersfield sometime soon.

“It’s wonderful.They should do it here twice a year,” she said.

Unlike Almond, veteran Gregg De Santis has known about the clinic for about a year and had been planning to attend. De Santis, who served in the U.S. Navy during the 1970s as a Morse code translator, said he needed teeth replacements and a cleaning, as it had been five years since he’d last seen a dentist.

De Santis said he heard about the clinic through Veterans Affairs. He noted that although the VA provides dental benefits, vets can mostly only get them if they have a service-connected disability or dental condition.

There are a few exceptions, such as for homeless veterans, former prisoners of war, and those who served during the Persian Gulf era. However, those veterans are often only given a one-time service.

De Santis said he was diagnosed as bipolar by the VA, but since it was after his service had concluded, he wasn't eligible for dental benefits. De Santis said free clinics like the one put on by the CDA are a big help.

“I’m very glad they’re doing it for everybody who needs it,” he said. “It’s a great resource.”

Yarborough said the long hours are worth it for dentists and other volunteers when they hear that they’ve made a difference in someone’s life.

“We’re trying to meet patients’ needs as much as possible. It’s a great responsibility,” he said.

Yarborough said the clinic has run smoothly so far, thanks in part to Bakersfield volunteers and patients.

“I want to thank the Bakersfield community. The community has been so engaging,” he said. “It’s been a great effort in bringing this all together.”

The clinic will run all day on Saturday, with doors opening at 5:30 a.m.

Joseph Luiz can be reached at 661-395-7368. Follow him on Twitter: @JLuiz_TBC.

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