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Second RIMOM free dental clinic serves hundreds
June 7, 2013
The Community College of Rhode Island hosted the second annual Rhode Island Mission of Mercy event, which helped uninsured people in need receive free dental care, on June 1 and 2.
More than 900 people visited the dental clinic at the CCRI Flanagan Campus, with some patients lining up overnight. They received cleanings, cavity fillings, partial dentures and root canals from dentists and hygienists from throughout New England who volunteered their time and expertise.
Rhode Island Mission of Mercy Co-Chairman Jeffrey Dodge, a dentist who practices in Woonsocket, said the total value of the care provided for patients was about $489,000. The Mission of Mercy is organized by the Rhode Island Oral Health Foundation with support from many other organizations and charitable donors.
Dental care can be prohibitively expensive for the unemployed and people whose employers do not provide dental insurance. Many patients at the Mission of Mercy had gone for years without seeing a dentist and their need for care was great.
David D’Alessio, for example, had been in constant pain caused by several dental problems. He had to leave his job as a tool and die maker after a serious injury, and he said his budget is tight.
Before attending Mission of Mercy, the Johnston resident visited a dentist for a consultation and the estimate for the cost of his care was an impossible sum. Fortunately, he heard about the Mission of Mercy event a week later.
“Thank God it was here,” he said. “I don’t know what I would have done. There’s no way I would have been able to afford this.”
D’Alessio got in line for treatment at 9 p.m. on Friday, May 31. He was the seventh person in line and had four infected teeth extracted. He went home, slept for a few hours, and returned at 10 p.m. to wait in line again. On June 2, he had a root canal as the first patient of the day and had time to get in line again for a second one.
Even after all of this dental work, D’Alessio was talking amicably with his neighbors in line and eating snacks delivered by volunteers.
“You would think I would be in pain right now but I feel fine,” he said. “That’s directly related to the ability of the dentists.”
D’Alessio was carrying the written estimate he received at a dentist’s office a week prior. It listed the prices of all the dental procedures he needed, which he had just gotten for free at the Mission of Mercy event. He saved $5,500.
Most patients were not in attendance for such major work. The most common procedures at the Mission of Mercy were hygienic cleanings, cavity fillings and extractions.
Devon Ranaldson attended with his wife and three children to get dental care for the whole family. He made sure his children received cleanings and sealants to prevent problems in the future.
“I definitely appreciate it,” he said. “The Mission of Mercy is very much needed and very compassionate.”
Carol Mendosa and Bill Rosiers, partners for 16 years, came together to receive teeth cleanings. Mendosa learned that a toothache she recently developed needed to be cured with a root canal.
“I was thrilled when I found out they could save the tooth,” she said. “I’m so grateful.”
It took about 600 volunteers working in shifts to make the Mission of Mercy a success. Besides the dental professionals providing care, there were people on hand to escort patients, help with parking, provide language translation, and serve and prepare food. Nurses and physicians processed patients and delivered doses of antibiotics.
Many CCRI students and employees volunteered. Associate Professor/Librarian Kathy Blessing was only a few feet away from the library where she spends many of her working hours.
“It’s very rewarding to help people,” she said. “Most of the folks that we are caring for are really grateful.”
CCRI’s Dental Hygiene program was well-represented in the ranks of the volunteers, with 40 students and recent graduates in attendance.
“I think this gives them a real-world perspective on the cooperative and team approach in dentistry,” said CCRI Dental Health Department Chair Kathleen Gazzola.
The students assisted with hygienic cleanings, took X-rays, cleaned dentures and assisted with surgical procedures.
“I think this gives us a lot of real-world experience,” said Sarah Guthrie, president of the CCRI dental hygiene Class of 2014. “It’s incredible to see the sheer amount of people that need care … and it shows us how we can take good oral health for granted.”
Dodge said the event would be much more difficult to hold without the help of the Community College of Rhode Island, which is a premier event sponsor along with Delta Dental.
“Most of the national Mission of Mercy programs use portable equipment, which needs to be set up and which requires some additional time for the practitioners to accommodate to,” Dodge said. “With the dental units in place [at the Flanagan Campus Dental Lab] the volunteer doctors are able to be more efficient, more productive and less fatigued. This is a big plus for an event such as this. We greatly appreciate the generosity of the CCRI community.”