Monday, July 21, 2014

Improving the Oral Health of All: A Missions of Mercy Milestone

Amidst the mountains in Wise County Virginia, the Virginia Dental Association hosted its annual Mission of Mercy (MoM) clinic over the weekend. Hundreds of volunteers turned out to serve food, repair teeth and offer check-ups to some 1300 folks who are unemployed, uninsured or underinsured, as well as their families. Without access to affordable dental care, many people -- especially those who are low-income, underinsured, disabled or seniors -- are left to suffer pain, discomfort, and embarrassment with nowhere else to turn.  One young man walked more than 20 miles to get to the clinic…only 25 years old…and he needed dentures. 
The Wise County MoM, one of the oldest and largest of the MoMs, celebrated its 15th year of service this weekend. In that time, 13,597 Southwest Virginia area patients have received free dental care valued at $ 13.9 million. Thousands of volunteers have made it all possible.
Marcia Brand, Deputy Administrator at HRSA, worked alongside members of the DentaQuest team in Triage throughout the entire clinic…it was fantastic having her there.  Dr. Charles Norman, ADA President, worked in the restorative area during the entire clinic as well as with DentaQuest folks in Triage. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe was onsite on Friday and clearly taken aback by what he saw and the desperate need for health care and dental services. Gov. McAuliffe took time to recognize the 15 years of service milestone, reading a proclamation and thanking the group and the volunteers for many years of needed service.
A similar clinic was held in Charles County Maryland this weekend, the 7th Mission of Mercy clinic in Maryland and the second in Southern Maryland. Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-5) visited the clinic on Friday, July 18. “With every dollar donated,” he said, “this program delivers $17 in dental services to Southern Marylanders, providing tremendous value to our community and reducing the number of emergency room visits at our local hospitals…and ensures that the underserved in our community have the care they need.”
Between the two MoMs, nearly 3,000 adults and children received free medical, dental and vision services this weekend. DentaQuest had teams supporting both MoMs. In Wise County, DentaQuest provided snacks for nearly 1,000 volunteer health care and general support volunteers who worked hard throughout the weekend to treat as many as they could.
The Missions of Mercy free care clinics are helping people who are out of options for dental care, but they are a stop gap, not a solution. While we celebrate the spirit of generosity that supports the large volume of people who continue to seek emergency dental care through MoM free care clinics, we are also reminded that we haven’t yet resolved the need for access to routine dental care services and the touching individual stories that spotlight the critical need for improving the oral health of all.  Children have options. The Childrens Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides health coverage, including dental services, to nearly 8 million children in families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid, but who can't afford private coverage. In the Affordable Care Act (ACA) pediatric dental is an essential health benefit.

DentaQuest is proud to support MoMs and DADs (Dental Action Days) clinics. We are honored to provide supporting donations and send volunteers to many of these clinics. Dental disease is nearly 100 percent preventable-- when people have access to quality care and prevention. Many do not. That’s a challenge we’re working to overcome.