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First-ever R.I. Mission of Mercy free dental event at CCRI campus treats 801 patients

June 7, 2012

For many people a trip to the dentist is a cause for procrastination, but when the Community College of Rhode Island hosted the first-ever Rhode Island Mission of Mercy event on June 2 and 3 to provide free dental treatment, patients began lining up as early as 6 p.m. on the preceding night.

Volunteers treated 801 patients of all ages over two days. See a photo gallery of the event.

Mission of Mercy events are held throughout the country and bring together dental professionals who donate their time and skill to provide free care. Approximately 50 million Americans lack health insurance and dental care is often the first thing to go, meaning that many people develop serious dental problems they cannot afford to have treated.

The Mission of Mercy event at the CCRI Flanagan Campus made use of CCRI’s state-of-the-art dental facility, complete with X-ray equipment and 24 chairs.

More than 450 dental professionals from Rhode Island including general dentists, pediatric dentists, endodontists, periodontists, oral surgeons, orthodontists and dental hygienists, assistants and technicians volunteered their services. Also present were about 350 community volunteers who escorted patients, directed traffic, worked in the cafeteria and provided translation. Many CCRI students, staff and alumni were on hand, including much of the dental hygiene graduating Class of 2012.

About 300 patients were seen on the first day and 500 more on Sunday.

Jeff Myrick arrived at 4 a.m. on Saturday to seek treatment for a variety of problems, including several decayed teeth in need of extraction.

With no health insurance provided at either of his part-time jobs in retail, Myrick said he has not been treated by a dentist in 10 years. He said he waited through the early morning cold and rain to receive treatment – at one point sheltering an elderly woman beneath his coat – but said it was worth it in the end.

“With no money, there’s no dental work, so this is a blessing,” he said. “The people who funded this are really nice and these dentists taking their time out is really appreciated by everybody.”

In order to keep the large number of patients moving steadily, each patient was treated only for a single issue at a time and then had to return to the back of the line. Myrick spent much of his day cheerfully waiting in line for his multiple procedures.

Other patients had seen a dentist more recently but could not afford the special procedures that they needed.

Diana Morales said she found out two months ago that she needed a root canal but could not afford the $1,000 cost.

“This was a great opportunity for those who can’t afford insurance,” she said.

One of the most common procedures at the Mission of Mercy event was a simple cleaning. Dentists recommend having teeth cleaned every six months, but this often falls by the wayside for the uninsured.

Taiwo Sonaike, who is uninsured, spent all of Saturday morning at the Mission of Mercy event so that he and his five children could receive teeth cleanings.

“I appreciate the people who have let us get this done,” he said. “It’s a great way to help the people who don’t have coverage.”


Dental professionals provide free care at the R.I. Mission of Mercy at CCRI.Woonsocket dentist Jeffrey Dodge, co-chairman of the Rhode Island Mission of Mercy event, said it was the culmination of 18 months of planning between many organizations: the Rhode Island Oral Health Foundation; the Rhode Island Department of Health; the state’s dental hygiene and assisting associations; Delta Dental; Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island; UnitedHealthcare; United Dental; and many others.

“We have many people coming together that you wouldn’t normally associate with an event like this,” he said.

Dodge has been involved with Mission of Mercy events in Connecticut for the last five years and said he hopes the Rhode Island version will help people in need as well as bring some attention to the state’s access to dental care problem.

“There are a lot of people who just can’t get dental work done,” Dodge said, “whether they can’t afford it, whether they don’t have a dentist near them, whether they don’t have adequate coverage of any type, whatever the case may be.”

Professionals came from all over Rhode Island to volunteer at the event.

CCRI 2012 graduates Alisha Hanoian and Meredith Miller returned to their alma mater to volunteer and spent Saturday taking X-rays.

“There’s been a lot of cases where patients’ teeth are really decayed and there may be an infection down at the apex of the tooth, so that’s why we do the X-rays,” Hanoian said. “There have been a lot of situations where the tooth is really decayed and loose, so we’re doing a lot of extractions today.”

Not every job at the Mission of Mercy event involved a dental chair. Volunteers first performed basic health screenings of the incoming patients. Occasionally, they were found to have high blood pressure or other ailments and were referred to local hospitals.

CCRI 2008 graduate Jenna Arpin and her boss John Broderick, a periodontist, worked in the dental triage room. This was the second stop for patients. There, they and many other volunteers assessed the dental needs of their patients and referred them to appropriate areas for treatment.

“Our first patient who we saw at 6 o’clock in the morning first arrived at 10:30 [Friday] night,” Broderick said. “I can’t believe how many patients showed up.”

Patients in need of surgery went next to the X-ray station and eventually to a special numbing station to receive anesthesia. This area provided an opportunity for medical professionals outside of the dental field to volunteer their skills, including Catherine Cummings, an attending physician at Rhode Island and Miriam Hospitals.

Cummings said she was inspired to volunteer because she sees so many patients in the emergency room in need of dental care that hospitals are not equipped to provide. For those who lack insurance, an emergency room visit is the only way to alleviate the pain of a dental ailment.

“They mostly are just looking to get out of pain,” she said. “They understand that we can’t do fillings or extractions but they know they’re in pain and they need help.”

She added, “We often have to do procedures or help people out and numb them up and this is a good chance to work with the dentists and learn how to do it even better.”

Dodge said that, given the success of this Mission of Mercy event and the number of Rhode Islanders who lack dental coverage, he expects another event next year.

“When you do something like this you hope that the need won’t be there and it will phase itself out but, judging from the need this year, I don’t think that will be the case,” he said.


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