It started with a hunting trip.
A young man went hunting in Ocracoke a few years ago, and while there he learned there was no dentist on the island. So he told his father, who volunteered as a driver for Baptists on Mission’s (BOM) dental bus.
Last month, a team of volunteer dentists went on their third visit to Ocracoke, seeing 44 patients over two days in the dental unit. The trip was sponsored by the Southwest Durham Rotary Club. Volunteers had been to Ocracoke twice before — in December 2020 and April 2021.
“Some of the patients we’ve seen before, and the only time they’ve been to the dentist in the last couple years has been with us,” said Krissy Watson, BOM’s dental ministry coordinator.
The nearest dentist’s office is in Hatteras, and for many Ocracoke residents, a visit to the dentist means taking a day off work and traveling by ferry over and back. Ocracoke Island is only accessible by ferry, and many residents work multiple jobs.
So during the island’s off-season, when tourism is lower and residents can take time off, the BOM dental bus provides services such as preventive dental cleanings, fillings and extractions. An Ocracoke resident coordinates appointments and connections between BOM and the community. Local businesses provide hotel rooms and donate meals for the volunteers. BOM sets up the dental unit at the fire department, where members of the group also eat most of their meals.
“We’re building relationships, not just with the residents but with the churches and the businesses there.” — Krissy Watson
Watson said with every trip, the team has seen greater trust from the community. Volunteers recalled how residents appeared to warm up to them more and more with each visit. Watson said this time, residents repeatedly offered to pay for meals or gas to serve the volunteers.
BOM hopes to continue going to Ocracoke with the dental bus twice a year. They currently have plans to go again this December and in March 2023.
There are only a handful of churches on the island, all of which are of other denominations. One of the churches only recently returned to their facility after it was damaged during Hurricane Dorian in 2019.
“Going back each year, we’re building relationships,” Watson said. “Not just with the residents but with the churches and the businesses there.”
BOM is working to connect with the Chowan Baptist Association to be part of the clinic in future visits.
More information about BOM’s mobile dental ministry is available online.