It was 9:15 a.m. on a rainy Friday morning, with a northeaster on its way, but Dr. Eric Thomas, a Cape May Court House dentist, had already seen more patients than he sees in a typical full day of work.

"I got here at about 4:15 a.m. and at about 4:30 someone drove up to see where the best place to park would be," Thomas said, who own a private practice, Sunshine Dentistry. On Friday, Feb. 8, Thomas and his crew spent the day offering free dental care to uninsured patients from in and around Cape May County. He did so through Dentistry From the Heart, a national nonprofit organization that aids in this mission.

Patients were able to receive a free cleaning, filling or an extraction, and despite the gloomy weather, many patients came out.

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"When I came in today at 6 a.m., there were cars lined up and down the street and people already waiting to come in," said Dental Assistant Erica McGuire. "We were supposed to start our day at 7 a.m., but we decided to start early, and by 6:40, we were seeing patients."

The goal was to see at least 100 patients through the day, but Thomas said he would have still been happy if 10 people showed up.

"I'm just happy to be able to serve our community," he said.

To help make the event a success, Thomas brought in several volunteers: Dr. Christopher Rochford, of Cape Atlantic Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, hygienists Amy Reef, Heather Swagler, Rochelle Archbold, Ariel Meredith and June Batz and students of Cape May County Technical School District's dental assistance program.

Reef Family Pharmacy, based in Cape May Court House, offered free antibiotics to patients in need, at the doctors' request. Heated tents were set up in front of the office building to accommodate patients as they waited to be seen. Free chair massages and hot beverages were being offered.

Although he wasn't even halfway through the day at 10 a.m., Thomas said he considers the event a great success and will make it an annual event at Sunshine Dentistry.

"It's rewarding," he said. "The best gift they are giving me is just a sincere 'thank you,' and that's all I need because that's what we're doing it for. When they get up, they are truly thankful."

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