This story originally appeared on Texas Public Radio.
There are two rows of portable dental chairs along the baseline at the Palmview high school gym in Mission, Texas. The chairs are filled with patients – many are having extensive work done on their teeth after a lifetime of neglect.
“They live with this pain for many years – some people don’t know what it’s like to live with pain on their teeth,” said Dr. Joshua Liescheski, a faculty member of Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry.
“We are either pulling teeth that can’t be saved or filling those that we can hopefully prevent from getting worse,” he said.
This is part of Operation Lone Star which every year for one week brings emergency medical treatment to this impoverished area. And resources are limited said Blanca Cantu, the La Joya ISD public relations officer.
“Dental slots – were 200 slots available – and vision – there were 50 vision slots available and they were all topped by 8 in the morning,” she said.
Cantu is helping the Texas Department of State Health Services for this effort. She says people started lining up at the High School as early as 2 in the morning to get one of those dental slots. It’s been described as a scene reminiscent of Black Friday. But instead of people scrambling for discounted home electronics they are competing for health care.
“I’ve been here since three in the morning.”
15-year old Eduardo is here with his family. They are among the lucky ones and are being treated. I asked him why he came. He opens his mouth wide and points to the back of his teeth.
“To get my….(tooth? Molar? Wisdom tooth? ) Yah. (did they fix you?) Yah, they did good. It’s awesome.”
There were five locations along the Texas Mexico border for Operation Lone Star – from Brownsville to Laredo. They mainly delivered immunizations, diabetic screening and physical examinations. Last year 11 thousand people were seen.
The Texas State Guard is one of the lead agencies because the core of this action is a military training exercise.
“The real reason the state supports Operation Lone Star is it is part of the practice and planning for how we treat a disaster.” said Brigadier General Doctor David Cowen, the Commander of the Texas State Guard Medical Brigade.
“We are here as part of what is called the practicing the incident command system which was started by FEMA after 911 and Katrina to make sure that multiple agencies and multiple organizations come together is what is called the Unified Command,” he said.