Volunteers with the Kansas Mission of Mercy worked through the day to convert the Western State Bank Expo Center into Kansas's largest dental clinic. Doors are open through Saturday.

Metaphors, mixed and otherwise, are required to describe the scale of the dental clinic that popped up inside the expo center Thursday afternoon, ready to provide free dental care to the residents of southwest Kansas and beyond today and tomorrow.

A small army of local volunteers assisted the organizers of the Kansas Mission of Mercy in setting up orchard-straight rows of dental chairs, work tables and hydra-like compressor hoses that will power dozens of air-powered tools.

The first patients that enter the makeshift clinic — and they started waiting Thursday afternoon — will be greeted by volunteers armed with several trees worth of clipboards and medical forms.

By late afternoon most of the room was ready to go, with only a few volunteers finishing up by stocking sheet-draped surgeries and setting big plastic tubs of supplies — gloves, gauze, toothbrushes, floss — just so, and adding a few stuffed animals to the children's clinic.

A horde of folding chairs sat empty, awaiting the nearly 1,000 patients per day the clinic is aiming to assist. 

"You should see it tomorrow," said Greg Hill, the director of the Kansas Dental Charitable Foundation. This will be the 13th year of the Kansas Mission of Mercy. The organization boasts 21,317 patients helped with a donated value of dental health care of $12 million.

Dentists and their staffs will start helping patients early this morning. Individuals' dentistry needs will be assessed and the most pressing concerns addressed.

The group sets a goal of $120,000 raised from the community, Hill said, though it hasn't been uncommon to fall short in years past.

Instead, $160,000 was donated for the cause of dental health. Walmart topped the donor list with $50,000, followed by Delta Dental at $30,000, the Scroggins Foundation and DentaQuest both added $10,000.

Dr. Richard McFadden, the co-chair of the steering committee with Dr. Richard Stein, said he was asked to help lead the local effort and had no real idea what he was getting himself into.

But, "I'm lucky Dodge City is a town steeped in volunteerism," he said Thursday night. "It's been a tiring few days, but a good tiring."

Boot Hill Marshall Brent Harris also thanked volunteers and organizers at a dinner at the Knights of Columbus, and gave a brief(ish) history of the dental sciences luminary Oscar H. Simpson, who became "the cowboy's dentist" and the founder of the "Mayo Clinic of dentistry" in Dodge City at the turn of the 20th century.

Harris left unmentioned Dodge City's most famous dentist not known for his dentistry: the consumptive card sharp, gunfighter and sometimes lawman John Henry "Doc" Holliday.