Last month on September 8th, hundreds of people lined up outside the Xfinity Center at the University of Maryland College Park campus. Some even camped out in line the night before just to ensure they would be seen and receive dental care at the 2017 Mid-Maryland Mission of Mercy dental clinic and Health Equity Festival. Mission of Mercy events are dental clinics temporarily set up to provide free dental care to hundreds of patients who are not otherwise able to afford the dental care they need. Dentists, dental professionals, and general volunteers from the community donate their time and expertise to make the event a success each time. Only a few of these events are held in Maryland each year, yet every time, more patients show up than can be accommodated.
The large turnout of people seeking care at these events highlights the need for improved access to dental care within the United States. According to the National Association of Dental Plans, at the end of 2016, almost a quarter (23%) of the U.S. population did not have dental insurance, and about one-third did not regularly visit a dentist. As an epidemiologist who has worked with large datasets pertaining to dental disease in the United States, I can attest that there are too many people within the United States who forego much needed dental care because of the associated costs. Just over the span of this 3-day event in particular, 858 patients were treated and 2,056 dental procedures were performed, totaling over $760,000. Even with the amount of services provided, unfortunately, hundreds of people hoping to receive care had to be turned away because the facilities were at capacity.
Although I currently work as a research assistant at IQ Solutions, I was able to join the 1,700 volunteers who helped make this event a success and apply my past experience in the dental field to serve as a dental assistant at the event. Having volunteered at Mission of Mercy events before, I have had the opportunity to help a diverse population of patients from all walks of life, all of whom desperately needed dental care. Some patients I worked with had not seen a dentist in years, needed major restorative and oral surgery work to restore functionality and eliminate orofacial pain. One of the most memorable experiences I had was with an older gentleman, who ended up needing four difficult tooth extractions. Even though the procedure was lengthy and unpleasant, the patient remained smiling and in great spirits, and was so grateful at the end, giving all the clinicians hugs. Another time, I worked with a patient who had not smiled for a very long time because of the unsightly decay of his front teeth. A few fillings later, he had a brand new smile that he was showing off.
At last month’s event, I was paired with a dentist who was using the latest CAD/CAM technology to create and place same-day crowns for patients, a feat that just recently became possible. After preparing the affected tooth, we scanned it to create a 3D computerized model of the tooth and digitally designed the crown. The plan for the tooth was then electronically sent to a milling machine nearby, which manufactured the perfectly fitting crown, which was then placed in the patient’s mouth a few minutes later. The results were fantastic, and patients walked away thankful, with a renewed ability to eat comfortably. Footage from this portion of the event can be found at https://vimeo.com/233242492.
As a sponsor of the event, IQ Solutions joined many other nationally recognized organizations that came together to make a difference in the lives of those who need it most. Our work with the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research equipped IQ Solutions to also serve as a Health Equity Fair exhibitor at the event, where we distributed educational materials about the importance of oral and dental care throughout life.
To read more about the event, please visit: