15:00 PM

Bananas about MOM

By Felix Layne, Vice President Finance, DentaQuest

From left to right: Pat Finnerty, DentaQuest Foundation; Bridget Hengle, DentaQuest; Felix Layne, DentaQuest; Cheryl Harris, DentaQuest; Debborah Oswalt, Virginia Health Care Foundation (ED); Waradah Eargle, DentaQuest.

Bananas and oral health? You bet they’re connected!

First let me give you some context for this story. Over 425 volunteers from Virginia and 12 states traveled to rural Western Virginia this summer to make the Wise County Mission of Mercy (MOM), sponsored by the Virginia Dental Association Foundation, and the delivery of free dental care to underserved people possible. Volunteers were dentists and hygienists as well as those not directly involved in delivering care, like me—I work in the finance department of DentaQuest.

This was my second Wise County MOM experience, and last year my role was dental hygienist assistant. This year, I was a member of the DentaQuest Virginia team responsible for distributing snacks and beverages to help sustain the hard working volunteers. This year, a dentist came to the DentaQuest snack trailer asking for a banana because his hand was cramping. The dental teams work in extremely hot tents starting at 5:30 am and continue late into the night—so one would expect hand cramping! What helps a cramping hand? The potassium found in bananas, and we didn’t have any.

I looked at the dentist and at the lines of people waiting for care and knew there was only one thing to do. Get bananas! At the nearest supermarket, I bought the entire supply of bananas -- 4 cases totaling 160lbs. There wasn’t a single banana left by the end of the day. Next year, we’ll be purchasing 500lbs of bananas for our food service effort during this three-day event.

This Missions of Mercy effort is all great work. Over three hot July days at the Wise County Fairgrounds, 1,382 patients received dental care valued at $1.5 million. This is dental care that these individuals and families—many of whom are the working poor—wouldn’t normally be able to afford. Wise County is part of the expansive and impoverished rural Appalachian Mountain area. Folks living around here are the working poor, elderly, disabled, or uninsured. When you are struggling to get food on the table, finding money to pay for dental care isn’t realistic. For this reason, the most common procedure was not cleanings or fillings, but extractions. The majority of teeth dentists saw were beyond repair. 3,575 extractions were performed.

Efforts like Missions of Mercy bring out the best in people. The desire to make a difference was contagious and didn’t stop at bananas. All kinds of folks showed up with something to offer, from food to clothes to dental services. My 14-year old daughter came with me and had the great idea to bring 150 dolls, hand-made by and donated from the North Andover Senior Center, to give to waiting children. I was so proud of her, and grateful for the opportunity to expose her to this valuable experience.

The Wise County MOM event left a dramatic impression of the unmet need for health care services. It reaffirmed the importance of having access to insured dental care, and highlighted the many different ways there are to help people.

The Virginia Dental Health Foundation started the Wise County Missions of Mercy (MOM) eleven years ago to "make caring visible." I encourage readers of this blog to get involved -- donate time, money, your voice, or your skills to help people receive vital dental care in your community. There are Missions of Mercy projects in nearly every state throughout the year.

I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to contribute in some small way to this effort. You could say that I’m bananas about MOM events. If you are interested in participating in next year’s Wise County MOM, you can find details on volunteering here.