Clinics 'make an incredible impact on people's lives'
Busy clinic: The Eastern Shore MOM held in March was Maryland's largest Mission of Mercy so far, treating about 1,000 patients. Statewide, MOM volunteers have provided nearly $3.5 million in treatment since 2010.
Waiting: Hundreds of patients line up for care before the opening of the Eastern Shore MOM March 15.
Dr. Diane Romaine, a general dentist in Frostburg, immediate past president of the Maryland State Dental Association and a board member for MSDA Charitable and Educational Foundation, was among the advocates who launched the first MOM event in Western Maryland.
"Maryland's dentists really took this project to heart," said Dr. Romaine, affectionately dubbed the mother of the Maryland MOM by a fellow volunteer dentist. "In Maryland we have made such strides with children's dental health since 2007. Now we want to help adults in need to achieve better oral health."
The MSDA Charitable and Educational Foundation, which is committed to improving the oral health of Maryland residents through projects that provide dental care for the disadvantaged, continues to support the Maryland MOM program since facilitating its launch in 2010. The foundation is working to increase support of charitable dental programs to bring dental care to those who cannot afford access to care, ensure that Maryland will have adequate professional dental care for the future and expand state access to care programs and help them flourish.
The Maryland project made its debut in Allegany County in Western Maryland, the county that leads the state in natural tooth loss, where more than 20 percent of residents live in poverty and more than 15 percent have not visited the dentist in five or more years, according to the Western Maryland MOM website at www.westernmdmom.com.
"Hopefully, hosting these clinics will enable communities statewide to make an incredible impact on people's lives and divert patients from emergency rooms, something that the ADA is focusing on through its Action for Dental Health: Dentists Making a Difference campaign," Dr. Romaine said. See more on the campaign at ADA.org/8585.aspx.
The state's fourth MOM, held March 15 and 16 at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center on the state's eastern shore, was the state's largest event so far. To date, Maryland dentists and communities have provided close to $3.5 million in treatment and have been able to provide nearly $17 in care for every dollar raised and spent through grants, fundraising and in-kind donations to host the events.
Community leaders, like Richard Van Gelder, vice president of Hebron Savings Bank in Salisbury, took on key roles in making the MOM clinics a reality. Mr. Van Gelder served as community chairman for the Eastern Shore MOM event in March.
"A neighbor and friend who is a dentist told me about the Mission of Mercy and it just reached to my heart," he said. "Aside from going to my own dentist twice a year, and making loans to dentist business owners in the
community, I didn't have a lot of firsthand knowledge about the importance of dentistry to a person's overall health. It was amazing to me to learn how the mouth is the gateway to the body's physiology. It really raised my awareness of the importance of dental care and of the overwhelming need in the community. Traditionally, health care above the shoulders—dental health or mental health—gets less attention and funding, and that is a big problem."
Mr. Van Gelder was impressed with the community spirit a MOM event inspires, from local dentists and community supporters, to volunteers who work at MOM events nationwide because they love it and want to help.
"Seeing the patients waiting in lines, taking phone calls from people with desperate dental need was overwhelming," Mr. Van Gelder added. "I am already looking forward to our next event in April 2015. We had 1,200 volunteers in a 65,000-square-foot facility and I think we had a tremendous success for our first effort. I worked with and got to know dentists region-wide and developed connections with dentists nationwide. We hosted legislators to share what happens at a MOM event and why they can be a tremendous community health resource. When I retire, I'd like to be a part of a national advocacy movement and assist facilitating the MOM effort."
State dental associations that are interested in launching a MOM program don't have to start from scratch, Dr. Romaine said.
"It is a huge undertaking to plan and host a MOM event," Dr. Romaine said. "But you don't have to feel overwhelmed or reinvent the wheel so to speak. There are people who can help. There are exceptional leaders in the ADA and in America's Dentists Care Foundation who can share the templates and timelines you need and will provide all the support and advice you need."
Dr. Romaine also went back to the beginning for some good advice and encouragement.
"The Virginia Dental Association Foundation, America's Dentists Care Foundation and [MOM founder] Dr. Terry Dickinson all helped us get started," she added. "We received some wonderful mentorship from Dr. Dickinson. He was always reachable by phone and helped us avoid some bumps in the road that earlier programs may have had. And now Maryland is helping other states organize MOM events."
In Maryland, volunteer dentists receive professional liability insurance from the MSDA-endorsed insurance carrier R. K. Tongue Co. Inc., alleviating a barrier to volunteering.
"Our volunteers keep coming back because once they do a clinic, they love it and want to do more," she said. "We hope to continue to build our volunteer base in hopes of being able to host larger clinics and reach more people with needed dental care."
Dr. Gregory Allen, chair for the Eastern Shore MOM and a general dentist in Salisbury, said the recent clinic changed the lives of many, patients and volunteers alike.
"At our MOM we treated over 1,000 dental patients, provided medical screening and referral to those in need and, in partnership with area optometrists, even provided 408 eye exams and eye glasses at no cost to the patients. We truly changed the lives of many patients over that weekend," said Dr. Allen. "But the real recipients of the Mission of Mercy were not those whose smiles were restored. It was the smiles I witnessed on the volunteers' faces knowing they had played a part is something much bigger than just any mission. They had helped their neighbor just because it was the right thing to do."
Dr. Allen noted that current health care policy and financial constraints can present a barrier to dental care, because "dentistry is often placed at the bottom of the prioritization of needs scale. The bipartisan support from our Maryland legislators was truly a remarkable thing to witness in a country that seems to be in controversy over health care spending. In the midst of a health care crisis in America, coupled with trying economic times, over 1,200 people donated their time and attention for the sole purpose of taking care of those in our community that are less fortunate or going through some difficult economic times. The most upsetting moment of our mission was having to turn more people away than we helped."
Dr. Garner Morgan, a general dentist in Mechanicsville and Charlotte Hall, a past MSDA president and chair of the Southern Maryland MOM, said that MOMs are a powerful tool to help those in need.
"A dentist often has the ability to make someone with a dental problem well in a day. It's a unique opportunity," Dr. Morgan said. "You can clean their teeth, perform extractions or restorations and send them on their way while instantly making a big change in their life. And we are able to offer MOM patients the same high quality care as we do in our own offices. These are hard-working Americans. The economy has them under the gun and they often can't afford to take care of themselves. We are doing this because we can help a lot of people, just two days at a time. And we are also helping the state and federal governments and local hospitals save on care to people who are ordinarily falling through the cracks. Once the community sees what you do, it's pretty easy to raise the funds needed to host a MOM."
Dr. Morgan has volunteered for several MOM events in Maryland and in other states as well. One of his most memorable patients, he said, was a lady who came for some extractions last summer. While she was in the screening and triage process, she had a heart attack and had to be rushed to the hospital.
"She wasn't focusing on the heart attack," Dr. Morgan said. "She asked me, 'What about my teeth?' I told her, when you get well, just come and see me and I will take care of you. I recently delivered her new dentures. It makes you wonder what would have happened to her if she hadn't come to the MOM."
For more information on Maryland MOMs, visit the MSDA website and click on the Mission of Mercy link under the Advocacy tab for links to the regional programs. For more information on the Charitable and Educational Foundation, contact Eric Biagioli at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-410-964-2880.
For details on the upcoming MOM event set for Nov. 3 in New Orleans during the ADA Annual Session, visit ADA.org/mom.
For more information regarding how to start a MOM program in your state, or to see a list of events scheduled by state, visit America's Dentists Care Foundation.