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Missions of Mercy 2014: Providing Care Now to Those Suffering from Untreated Disease

December 9, 2014

It’s becoming a familiar scene throughout the country, and one that underscores the need to improve access to dental care for America’s most underserved populations: people lining up overnight outside schools, community centers, fairgrounds, even an airplane hangar, to receive free dental care the following day.

Most of these people are desperately in need of some type of restorative care, such as fillings, extractions or root canals. Many need full or partial dentures. And for many, this is the only way they can receive it.

Missions of Mercy are one- to three-day events at which dentists, dental hygienists and assistants, and other volunteers converge in large-scale, temporary clinics to provide free services for the nation’s most underserved people.

So far this year, Missions of Mercy clinics have served about 31,000 people, providing some $20 million in donated dental services, according to the America’s Dentists Care Foundation, which provides dental equipment and expertise to states participating in Mission of Mercy events.

Since the program was created in 2000 by Virginia Dental Association Executive Director Dr. Terry Dickinson, Missions of Mercy have served nearly 172,000 patients.

“This program exemplifies dentistry’s commitment to ensuring all Americans have good dental health,” said ADA President Dr. Maxine Feinberg. “But it’s important to recognize that charity alone isn’t the answer to improving access to care. It is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive set of solutions. Through the Action for Dental Health movement, we are committed to providing care now to those already suffering from dental disease, strengthening the public and private safety net, and bringing prevention and education into communities. That’s why the ADA is advocating for Medicaid reform to improve the tattered safety net, so more people get the care they need from dentists.”

By the end of December, 24 events will have taken place in states throughout the country, including Alaska, which hosted its first Mission of Mercy earlier this year. The Alaska Dental Society estimated that its inaugural two-day program provided care valued at $1.1 million.

Dentists there made a point to teach patients about the importance of taking care of their teeth.

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

Dentists participating in Pennsylvania’s second annual Mission of Mercy provided care to more people during this year’s event than last year’s due to an increased number of volunteers, according to Dr. Gary Davis, who chaired this year’s event.

“Many of the volunteers are eager to participate in next year’s event,” said Dr. Davis. “They say it’s one of the most rewarding parts of dentistry to be able to provide care for these people who so desperately need it.”

Other states, such as Illinois, saw an alarming rise in the number of adults seeking care at the state’s Mission of Mercy, presumably due to the state’s cutting adult dental Medicaid benefits other than in emergencies in 2012, said Dionne Haney, the director of professional services for the Illinois State Dental Society (ISDS), which hosts the event.

Ninety-three percent of patients treated at the Illinois Mission of Mercy this year were adults, according to ISDS. That number was up from the 89 percent of adults who sought care during the inaugural Illinois Mission of Mercy in 2010.

In both years, the clinic treated about 1,950 people.

“Our hope is that these restored dental Medicaid benefits will help get people the care they need on a consistent basis so they don’t have to live with pain and dental disease,” said Ms. Haney.

In Rhode Island, dentists hoped that treating 750 people during their annual event would cut down on the number of visits to emergency rooms for preventable dental conditions, according to Dr. Jeffrey Dodge, president of the Rhode Island Oral Health Foundation.

“Our goal was to take care of urgent needs like infections, swelling and pain by taking out teeth and doing fillings,” he said. “It is our hope that by providing these types of services, we can alleviate the burden on local emergency rooms to provide treatment best handled by dentists. At the same time, we hope to educate people about the importance of good oral health to prevent them from having dental disease in the future.”

Here’s a look back at some of the Missions of Mercy events held in 2014:

• New Mexico Dentists Provide Care to More than 1,000 People at Mission of Mercy
• Colorado Dentists Transform High School into Temporary Clinic
• Iowa Dentists Provide Care to More than 1,000 People at Seventh Annual Mission of Mercy
• Pennsylvania Dentists Provide Care to More than 2,000 People at Mission of Mercy
• Maryland Dentists Provide Care for the Underserved during Mission of Mercy
• Minnesota Dentists Provide Care to the Underserved at Mission of Mercy
• Alaska Dentists Prepare for First Missions of Mercy Event
• California, Connecticut Dentists Provide Free Care to People in Need
• Missouri Dentists Provide Care to the Underserved at Mission of Mercy Event
• Arkansas Dentists Provide Care to Nearly 2,000 People at Mission of Mercy Event
• Rhode Island Dentists Hope Two-Day Free Clinic Will Alleviate ER Burden
• Michigan Dentists Treat Needy during Second Mission of Mercy
• Attendance Up at Illinois Mission of Mercy Due to Slashed Medicaid Benefits
• Wisconsin Dentists Provide Care to Underserved during Mission of Mercy
• Dentists Treat the Underserved at Oregon Mission of Mercy
• Oklahoma Dentists Provide Record Number of Services at Mission of Mercy Despite Weather Setbacks