"Thank you for expending your skills, education, and passion today. It’s really amazing to see new graduates and alumni volunteering their valuable time." These were the reaffirming words spoken a past dental hygiene instructor of mine. They confirmed that my participation in the Wisconsin Dental Association Mission of Mercy 2018 was a worthy decision.
What is Mission of Mercy?
Mission of Mercy is a program that provides free dental care to any individual in need. It is typically a two-day event, with the ability to service thousands of people. Its focus is providing dental care to those who may not regularly have access to dental care, including individuals who would otherwise live with pain and infections. Some of the services offered to patients are fillings, root canal treatment, extractions, prophies, sealants, and dentures. Mission of Mercy is a volunteer-based organization consisting of dentists, registered dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental students, and many others.
In 2016, it was estimated that 74 million Americans had no dental coverage.1 Those individuals were less likely to have restorative care or treatment for periodontal disease. Additionally, those without dental benefits were susceptible to a higher incidence of illnesses. They were 67% more likely to have heart disease, 50% more likely to have osteoporosis, and 29% more likely to have diabetes.1 Such staggering statistics reiterate the need for programs like Mission of Mercy.
Those questions were swiftly answered once I arrived at my station. The setup was impressive, and the expectations were reasonable. You simply do the very best you can! During my five-hour shift, I saw 11 patients, dedicating about 30 minutes per patient. It is a very "all hands on deck"–organized system. An assistant was present to help set up and clean up as well as be a runner who delivered patients to each operatory. Before patients made it to my chair, they were triaged by a dentist. We were allowed access to their full medical histories and the dentist-recommended treatment.
Every patient was different, whether by their demographic or their needs—just like my days at the office. The difference was the immense gratitude they expressed. The patients were thankful for not only the dental care I provided, but also for the patient education that I shared with them. I heard comments such as, "I had no idea I should be using a mouth rinse"; "I never thought a power toothbrush would make a difference"; “I always have used a hard toothbrush—I never knew I was causing harm to my gums.” People were so genuine in their responses, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to help them.
This year’s Wisconsin Dental Association Mission of Mercy was an exceptional success with:
- 1,409 volunteers
- 2,087 patients
- $1.3 million provided in dental care
My involvement with Mission of Mercy exceeded my expectations and increased my already strong passion for helping others. I found the experience extremely rewarding, and I would highly recommend all dental care providers participate in an event should the opportunity arise.