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Dentists with a Heart gets biggest crowd yet for free cleanings, fillings and extractions
Dr. Cindy Ratliff, left, and assistant Sarah Riley work on patient Corey Murray's teeth Friday morning at the Gainesville Dental Group during its annual Dentists with Heart event.

Dentists with a Heart, in its eighth year of free dental care, was expecting to help about 80 people Friday.

That number would be the largest number served at the clinic, Mike Vetter, dentist and partner in the practice, said.

Three dentists and volunteers from the staff at Gainesville Dental Group were working, Vetter, said.

He noted the idea came from Kell Gallaher, former dentist in the practice who retired last year. The idea for the free dental clinic “was near and dear to his heart, and I totally agreed,” Vetter said.

The name for the clinic came because Gallaher wanted it to be near Valentine’s Day, but a later date was more helpful for patients waiting outside. Vetter noted temperatures are often too cold around the holiday.

Cleanings, extractions and fillings were the primary work provided for patients. Just before noon, 20 teeth had been pulled. Vetter estimated that the staff would provide 20 to 30 teeth cleanings.

Vetter explained that time is limited when the clinic is held. More extensive care, such as root canals, can’t be done because of the time required, he said.

The office was humming about lunchtime Friday. The office had a reception room full of patients, and all seven stations were full.

Vetter noted that most participants had registered early and gotten numbers which assigned them a time so they didn’t have to wait all day.

He said the line was the “longest I’ve ever seen” at the clinic.

“This year I think we could have seen 110, but timewise we couldn’t do it,” Vetter said.

Also working with Vetter were two other dentists: his wife, Cynthia Ratliff, and Paul Gannon. Ratliff practices in Cornelia and Gannon works in the practice.

People seeking care call the office ahead of time, get numbers and have a better idea when to come rather than having to wait, Vetter said.

Shameka Brown, who was finishing her second week at the dental practice, was checking people out. She said people began call more than a week ago to sign up for the clinic.

Vetter said patients already had been seen from LaGrange and Decatur. He said he believes family members pass the word, and relatives drive to Gainesville to get care.

“We don’t care,” he said. “We’re just here to help.”