By Dianne Glasscoe Watterson, MBA
Where do people go when they have extremely limited financial resources, no dental benefits, and need dental care? Often, they suffer, and sometimes they wind up in an emergency room only to be seen by someone with no dental expertise. In response to this problem, dental professionals in Maryland and a few other states have organized mass efforts to deliver free care. It is called “Mission of Mercy.”
The Faces of the Indigent
Mary is a fifty-something divorcee who recently moved in with her son – a single dad struggling to raise three daughters under the age of 10. Seems the girls’ mother took off to parts unknown. “Dentistry has become a luxury we can’t afford,” Mary told me. “We live below the poverty line. Ten years ago, I would have never believed I’d be saying these words.”
John is an amiable fellow with horribly scarred arms and legs. MRSA from some unknown origin nearly took his life. It started in his arm, spread to the other arm, and then to both legs. His scars look like large chunks of flesh that were destroyed. “I spent two months in the hospital and nine months in a nursing home,” said John. My family was called in twice when the doctor said I would not live through the night. This illness wiped me out financially.”
Tim is a war veteran and suffers from PTSD. When he opens his mouth, his jaw quivers. All the maxillary teeth are gone, and he states his upper denture is broken. Several mandibular teeth have caries, but his toothache is coming from #31. He just wants to be out of pain.
Rose is an unemployed 21-year-old with two facial piercings. She has cervical caries in three teeth and several more with white spot lesions. Her favorite drink is Mountain Dew.
These aforementioned people are representative of the people that were provided free dental care through a two-day event called “Mission of Mercy” (MOM) in southeastern Maryland, held on June 22- 23, 2012. Sponsored by the Maryland State Dental Association, the free dental clinic is an organized attempt to provide care to a rising number of individuals who cannot afford even basic dental care from a traditional dental office.
The latest event was headed by Dr. Garner Morgan, Project Director, and Dr. Martin Barley, Dental Director. (It is noteworthy that Dr. Morgan recently received the 2012 Maryland Rural Health Association award for Outstanding Rural Health Practitioner for his work with the Mission of Mercy.) The event was held in a school gymnasium in a rural area of southeastern Maryland. Volunteers consisted of general dentists, oral surgeons, endodontists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental students, lab personnel, nurses, and others. In addition, there were law enforcement people and an OSHA representative.
The goal was to treat up to 1,000 individuals during the course of two 12-hour days. Volunteers were asked to choose from four work shifts – two shifts on each day from 6 a.m . to 12 p.m. and 12-6 p.m. There was also a volunteer team to do the massive set-up necessary on Thursday. That evening, they were invited to attend an orientation and dinner. All the dental chairs, lights, and units were portable. The equipment, instruments, handpieces, chairs, and units were rented to Maryland Mission of Mercy by the Virginia Dental Association.
As can be imagined, an event of this size required a large amount of consumable dental supplies. Some of the dental supplies for this event were donated, while other supplies were purchased with money raised through various fundraising efforts and donations.
The arrangement of stations throughout the gymnasium was amazingly well-organized. There was a triage area near the entrance with five chairs; there were 10 chairs designated for dental hygiene in two long rows; there were 20 chairs for restorative dentistry in three rows; there were 30 chairs for oral surgery. Additionally, there were three chairs for endodontics, two chairs for prosthodontics, and three post-operative chairs. At the far end of the gymnasium was the sterilization area. To the right of that was the dental supply area.
The Final Numbers
When everything was tallied following the two-day event, these were the results:
- Around 700 patients were treated
- There were over 4,000 dental procedures performed
- The dollar value for all services was $825,000
Events like the Maryland Mission of Mercy are happening across the country in response to the ever-growing problem of access to dental care for individuals who cannot afford even basic dental care in the traditional sense. The poor have always been around, but many people who formerly considered themselves “middle-class” are now joining the ranks of the indigent due to job losses. When times get hard, dental care often becomes an unaffordable luxury. The funny thing is that those of us who volunteer our time and skill to help others are the ones who end up receiving the greatest personal satisfaction and joy from giving.