Denise Atkinson came to the Alliant Energy Center at 2:30 a.m. Friday with a toothache.
She was the 297th person in line when the doors opened three hours later for a massive free clinic run by the Wisconsin Dental Association.
Volunteer dentists pulled her tooth, which had been painful for a year and a half after a filling fell out and exposed the root.
"This is a godsend," said the 57-year-old unemployed woman from Footville, west of Janesville. "Dentists are expensive. I was going to go until I just couldn't take it anymore."
More than 1,500 patients were treated Friday, and another 1,500 or more are expected to be helped Saturday.
"A lot of dentists do a lot of charity work, but you usually don't see it," said Tim Kinzel, a dentist at Children's Dental Center of Madison who was volunteering Friday.
The dental association's fourth annual Mission of Mercy clinic, held for the first time in Madison, transformed the Alliant Center into a dental encampment, with stations for triage, X-rays, extractions, fillings, partial dentures, cleanings and patient education. Children and Special Olympians had separate areas.
Patients lined up outside the convention center and sat inside on folding chairs waiting to have their dental pain eased or get their teeth cleaned. The dental association says it will provide an estimated $1.75 million in free care over the two days.
Danielle Mizialko figures her three sons, ages 5 to 13, received $3,000 worth of care Friday.
Her husband works full time, and she home schools the boys. The family, from Walworth, east of Beloit, doesn't have dental insurance and pays out of pocket for dental care.
When Mizialko took her sons to the dentist this month for regular check-ups costing a total of $600, the dentist found the boys had seven cavities needing fillings, two spots needing sealants and a broken tooth. The estimated cost: $3,000.
On Friday, the volunteer dentists took care of it all.
"I would have had to save a year to make that happen," Mizialko said.
Marc Simpson traveled from his home in Milwaukee to get a root canal. He'd been filling a hole in his tooth with temporary material he got at a drug store.
When he arrived at 4:45 a.m., he was patient No. 678.
Later, he glanced around the convention center at the hundreds of people waiting for or receiving treatment.
"A lot of people need dental care," he said. "This really helps."