ANCHORAGE -

Alaskans are already lining up Thursday night for a free dental care event in Downtown Anchorage. As many as 2,000 people will wear a brighter smile this weekend, with help from Mission of Mercy.

The event, held Friday and Saturday at the Dena’ina Center with doors opening at 4:30 a.m. and closing at 6 p.m. each day, is an effort by several local groups which brings the national event to Alaska for the first time.

Organizers say they've been planning the event for a year in hopes of bringing free dental care to underserved Alaskans. More than 1,500 dental professionals and community members are volunteering their time to make Mission of Mercy a reality.

The Dena'ina Center was humming Thursday evening, with the sounds of volunteers getting ready for what's anticipated to be a busy two days.

“Our mission is to take care of people, and take them out of pain and infection,” said Mission of Mercy facilitator Vivienne Murray.

Outside the building, another large crowd was gathering to secure early spots in the first-come, first-served event.

“We came at 6 this morning; there was nobody here,” said Anchorage resident Elizabeth Jennings. “We came at 9:30; there was nobody here. We came at 2:30, and this is where we got in the line.”

Those hoping to utilize Mission of Mercy's services have already begun to line up.

“I've got a cavity that’s in between the two and then another cavity here,” Jennings said. “And then a crown came off, so this tooth is kind of rotten, so I hope they'll just yank it out -- and I should be good for another couple years.”

A father and son in line at the Dena’ina Center, Forrest and Dmitri Trihub, each said they were there for one another.

“I'm a single dad and it's hard to come up with the cash, you know, so it's a great opportunity for (Dmitri) to come down and have some cleanings done,” Forrest Trihub said.

“(I’m) just coming down here with my dad,” said Dmitri Trihub. “I don't really have anything dental-wise I need done to me, but I thought I'd support my dad and just give him someone to hang out with.”

Fairbanks man Bill Westerlund says he even drove to Anchorage just to make sure he gets an appointment on Friday.

“I've had to sell things just to come down here, just to get money to buy gas, get fuel, buy food even,” Westerlund said. “And it’s something where it’s like, ‘Oh please, I just want to stop being in pain all the time.’”

Those in line Thursday say they’ve come to take advantage of a service that would otherwise be tough to afford.

“The drive down from Fairbanks to Anchorage is a lot cheaper than going to a dental office, when you actually don't have enough money or insurance,” Westerlund said.

“There's not too many alternatives, you know, if you don't qualify for Medicaid,” Jennings said. “I haven't made it a priority when I divide up my little piles of money -- it's just not one of the piles.”

As people wait in line and try to stay warm, they're hoping the long hours and the generosity of others will leave them with a smile that's healthier and happier.

A full list of services offered, as well as a sample admission form (PDF), can be viewed on Mission of Mercy’s website.