Free Dental Clinic Exposes Major Issues

By: Lauren Zakalik Email
By: Lauren Zakalik Email

Some people have been waiting in this line for hours.

"I have a tooth that's cracked in half, so I need them to remove that," says Lachara Brandon of Lansing.

But hours don't seem that bad when you've been waiting years to see a dentist.

"Four years," Marion Ewing of Lansing says she's waited.

"It's ridiculous," says Erica Watts. "No one has the money to get their mouths fixed."

But a group of local dentists is trying to change that Thursday, donating their time to see as many people as they can for free-- people who don't have insurance, but desperately need dental care. Dr. Timothy Zielinski of Mason has just removed 14 teeth from a patient.

"The gal before her, we took 27 teeth out," the dentist tells us.

It's a direct effect of the economy, he says. People don't have jobs, so they don't have insurance. To boot, Medicaid cut out dental coverage this past year. It's been reinstated for now, but this free clinic being held at the Care Free Medical Clinic tells a different story.

"The clinic right now has 1,000 patients on a waiting list," Zielinski says, mentioning more than 200 people call a week and have to be turned away.

As emotional and painful as each of these stories is, the dentists say this only represents a small snapshot of how big the issue is-- not just in mid-Michigan, but around the state, too.

"The numbers right now show about 30 percent of the population doesn't have access to dental care because they don't have dental insurance," explains Michigan Dental Association's Tom Kochheiser.

That's not to mention the 1.5 million more people who lost dental benefits because of the Medicaid situation, says Kochheiser. That makes about 4.5 million people in Michigan vulnerable when it comes to dental care.

Back at the clinic, Maggie Washington of Lansing is about to get an infected tooth removed.

"It costs a lot to have a tooth extracted," she says.

Something she couldn't have afforded on her own.

The clinic expected to serve more than 100 people Thursday. is happy to provide a forum for commenting and discussion. Please respect and abide by the house rules:

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