14:16 PM

What Mission of Mercy Events Say About Our Oral Health System

By Ralph Fuccillo, DentaQuest Chief Mission Officer

Free care clinics Missions of Mercy (MOMs) and Dental Action Days (DADs) provide critical dental services to thousands of low-income and underserved adults and children throughout the nation every year.

The first time I attended one of these types of events was in 2009 at a clinic in rural Virginia. It left a dramatic impression. It is impossible to overstate the desperation and gratitude that I saw that weekend. People had driven thousands of miles to wait overnight to get entry into the clinic. I saw a young man in his 20s who had nearly all his teeth pulled out and he was grateful for it because the pain he was in had been so bad. It was a moment when I fully understood what people mean when they say our healthcare system is broken.

The experience motivated me to become involved as a founding board member of the US National Oral Health Alliance and to help create the DentaQuest Foundation’s multi-year Oral Health 2014 initiative, which is cultivating and supporting local oral health leaders and advocates across the U.S. These initiative and the work of many others throughout the country are focused on changing and improving systems– care, community, policy and financing –that can make (or break) a healthy nation.

The volume of people seeking emergency dental care at these clinics is a painful reminder that too many are falling through cracks in our health system. These clinics are a red flag that our systems are letting people down. Last year, Dr. Terry Dickinson, founder of the Missions of Mercy Project in Virginia, shared his thoughts about these clinics at a gathering of the U.S. National Oral Health Alliance that resonated with me:

“Missions of Mercy has allowed me to get in touch with folks who have really struggled to access dental care. If you look at them in line, it’s like there’s an element of hope missing in their faces. They come in with swelling and bleeding and they live with a pain that few of us could tolerate. Since I started the Missions of Mercy Project in 2000, we have provided over 45,000 patients with well over $20.5 million of free dental care. As much as I love what I do, I hate to have to do it. Missions of Mercy is not the solution; and it’s not right that we have to provide care in this manner. So many have lost their future.”

DentaQuest is proud to be a supporter of MOMs and DADs clinics. We provide donations and send volunteers to many clinics annually. Our team in South Carolina will be supporting an event in North Charleston this weekend. Last month, we volunteered, hosted a snack shack for volunteers and provided oral health supplies (toothbrushes, paste, floss, literature) for patients at Virginia Dental Association Foundation’s Wise MOM event in Wise County, Virginia. We really do care about helping people who live in the communities we serve.

Dental disease is nearly 100 percent preventable-- when people have access to quality care and prevention. Many do not. That’s the challenge we’re working to overcome.