Nearly 200 dentists will be coming to Glenwood Springs in early October in hopes of putting smiles on the faces of western Coloradans in need of care for their teeth.

The caregivers may receive just a thanks and perhaps a hug in return, but that's the whole point of the 13th annual Colorado Mission of Mercy dental clinic. Its purpose is to provide free care to adults and children.

The nonprofit group has provided $13 million altogether in donated dental care to more than 15,000 patients, but this is its first time coming to western Colorado.

"There's so much need on the I-70 corridor from Glenwood Springs to Grand Junction," said Dr. George Gatseos, a retired dentist who with his wife, retired dental hygienist Janet Gatseos, are on the leadership team for this year's event. Others on the team are Dr. Steve Reed and Samantha Reed in Grand Junction and Dr. Jim Setterberg, Sherrie Setterberg and Dr. Dirk Fleishman in Glenwood Springs.

The event is massive in scale, with organizers hoping to treat up to 800 patients a day over two days, thanks to more than 1,000 volunteers altogether including everyone from dental hygienists to patient registration and parking personnel.

It will take place Oct. 4 and 5 at Glenwood Springs High School, 1521 Grand Ave., with doors opening at 6 a.m. each day. The school will be transformed with two semis full of dental equipment being unloaded, generators installed and more than 125 dental chairs set up.

Patients can receive services such as cleanings, fillings, root canals, extractions, dentures and crowns.

Sherrie Setterberg recently told Garfield County commissioners that some volunteers will drive 200 miles or more, put themselves up in local hotels and work from 5:30 a.m. to  6 p.m. each day.

"It's just a good-hearted thing where people give up their time and their talents and their money," she told the commissioners, who subsequently donated $5,000 in county funds to the event.

Pam Dinkfelt, Colorado Mission of Mercy's executive director, told the commissioners the event costs about $200,000 to put on, a frugal budget considering the more than $1 million in donated treatments that result.

The care is provided no-questions-asked, with anyone who shows up being eligible. Gatseos said many who need dental care are hardworking but don't have insurance or enough money for care and make too much to qualify for Medicaid dental assistance.

The event is on a first-come, first-served basis, with no appointments being taken, and because of the clinic's popularity people are encouraged to arrive early and can even line up overnight if they'd like. Doors will close when the clinic reaches capacity, which can happen early in the day, organizers say. Attendees are advised to bring snacks and water.

Children under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Translators will be on hand for Spanish-speaking patients.

Gatseos said thousands of Coloradans have trouble sleeping, eating, working and functioning due to dental issues. He said many become emotional over the care they receive at the free clinics.

"There will be people who break down and cry," he said.

More information may be found at www.COMOM.org.

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