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Alaska Dentists Host First Missions of Mercy Event

April 16, 2014

Dentists throughout the country gathered in Alaska on April 11-12 to provide care to 1,589 underserved Alaskans during the state’s first Missions of Mercy program, an event where volunteer dentists offered their services for free.

About 240 dentists – many from in state, but others from as far as Florida, Texas, Nevada, and Oregon – joined approximately 1,300 community volunteers at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage, according to Dr. David Nielson, executive director of the Alaska Dental Society.

“I would say what makes this one unique compared to the other Missions of Mercy events is just the size of our state dental society,” said Dr. Nielson. “We’re by far probably the smallest state in terms of members who have tried to pull this off. It shows how much you can do from a community standpoint, and you don’t necessarily need a gigantic dental society staff.”

Dr. Nielson, who also served as president of the Alaska Dental Society in 2003, and his wife, Dr. Julie Robinson, who served as president in 1994, this year decided to take on the project after selling their practice.

“The idea had been brought to our dental society a couple of times in the past,” said Dr. Nielson. “Then, about a year and a half ago, dentists from the Oregon Dental Association came up to pitch the idea to us. My wife and I knew that we were going to be selling our practice and thought we would have time to take on this project.”

The Missions of Mercy (MOM) concept started in Virginia and has spread throughout the United States. Since 2000, Missions of Mercy events have served about 143,000 patients in 28 states.

The Alaska Dental Society estimated that the two-day program cost about $200,000 and provided about $1.1 million in dental services to patients. Besides providing dental care, the volunteers also taught their patients about the importance of taking care of their teeth.

“Education is the most cost-effective way to reduce oral disease,” said Dr. Nielson. “We wanted to help patients understand the importance of good daily oral hygiene practices, healthy diet and routine preventive dental care.”

The Alaska Dental Society created a non-profit arm to fund future events, including a second Mission of Mercy scheduled to take place in August 2015 in Fairbanks.

“We’re hoping to keep this going,” Dr. Nielson added.