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SIOUX CITY - Approximately 1,500 people received nearly $700,000 worth of free dental care at the Iowa Mission of Mercy free dental clinic Friday and Saturday at the Tyson Events Center.

Sioux City dentist Dr. Dick Hettinger said the response to the two-day clinic was fabulous despite the icy roads Saturday morning. Thirteen hundred volunteers helped prepare and run the clinic, he said, which helped 736 people on Friday and 750 on Saturday.

"It's important because there are many people who don't have the financial ability to get dental care or health care," said Hettinger, the state chair for the Iowa Mission of Mercy clinic.

Lisa Russell, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Dental Association, said volunteers at the Sioux City clinic had provided about $670,000 in service to 1,100 patients as of midday Saturday.

The event rotates through different parts of the state. This weekend's clinic was the first time it had been offered in western Iowa.

The three previous Iowa Mission of Mercy clinics provided about $2.5 million of service to some 4,500 patients at events in Waterloo, Newton and Cedar Rapids, Russell said.

She said thousands of people don't have dental insurance and must live with tooth pain because they can't afford to pay for service.

"The stories are always compelling, always a little different, but it comes down to the basic fact there are a lot of people who need a lot of work," Russell said.

A nagging problem with one of Michelle Templin's front teeth brought her to the clinic on Saturday. She'd had it checked out at a local dentist, who told her repairs would cost $2,400 and likely require pulling the tooth.

Templin, of Sioux City, said she was relieved that volunteers were able to fill her problem tooth Saturday without removing it. That was nice, she said, because she wasn't too keen on a big gap where the front tooth was supposed to be.

"I don't want to look 80 when I'm 40," Templin said with a smile, adding, "I don't want to look 40 when I'm 40."

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