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Dental clinic offered free services with a smile

Waiting inside the balloon-festooned doors of the Dental Excellence clinic in Medford on Friday was a gift guaranteed to improve smiles.

For the fifth year in a row, Richard Schmidt, 62, opened his dental practice early to meet the needs of about 135 Rogue Valley residents living without dental insurance.

"It's just a little opportunity to give back," said Schmidt.

On a first-come, first-served basis, Schmidt, his partner Blair Tudor, and three dental hygienists volunteered their services to provide a full day of care they called "Dentistry with a Heart" — in honor of Valentine's Day.

Each of the nine stations in the clinic were filled to capacity with people in need of one of the three services being provided: cleanings, fillings or extractions.

Laurie Ortiz has been a dental tech for the past 30 years. Up to her knuckles in pearly soon-to-be-whites, Ortiz was all smiles herself as she cleaned the teeth of a clinic customer at about noon.

"It's the most satisfying thing you could ever do," said Ortiz. "I have had every single person thank me for cleaning their teeth today."

Tudor stepped away from his patient for just a moment to second Ortiz's sentiments. This is Tudor's second year working the clinic.

"I'm just a rookie," he said with a laugh.

In a normal day, Tudor said, he sees about 15 patients. Friday he expected to see between 45 and 50.

"We're doing a lot of extractions," Tudor said. "A lot of teeth that are causing a lot of grief."

The fast pace makes the day go by fast, and "we get a lot of dentistry done," he added.

As Schmidt, Tudor and the techs continued to work, more adults and children awaited their turn, queuing up both inside and outside the building.

For Tami Goldman, 34, free dental work meant teeth cleaning for two of her eight children, and the extraction of a painful tooth for her.

"I am grateful for the dentists," said Goldman. "And it's great they are offering this."

It was Goldman's first year attending the annual free clinic. Next year she'll bring more of her kids, she said.

"Finances are hard," she said.

Given the current state of the economy, Schmidt wasn't surprised to see the free clinic's usual long lines were even longer this year.

"We got started early today," said Schmidt. "The parking lot was full when I got here. One lady said she'd been here since 3:30 a.m."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.