Event highlights the unmet oral health needs of disadvantaged Michigan residents

BIG RAPIDS — Dentists will provide free dental care on a first-come, first-served basis for two days in Big Rapids during the state’s second Mission of Mercy event.

The Michigan Dental Association (MDA) member dentists will provide the free dental care to those in need during the two-day, 100-chair dental clinic. The doors will open at 6 a.m. and close when capacity is reached on Friday, May 30, and on Saturday, May 31, at Ferris State University’s Wink Arena. Those attending the free dental clinic should be prepared for long lines, MDA officials said.

The joint venture between the MDA and the MDA Foundation hopes to address thousands of disadvantaged people who have little or no access to regular dental care. The event hopes to highlight the need for proper funding of oral health programs, including adult Medicaid and expanded benefits.

“We realize residents in more rural areas of the state face unique challenges when it comes to healthcare access,” said Marty Makowski, MDA president. “It is our hope that the event not only provides patients in need with free, critical and quality dental care, but also facilitates further efforts to address the barriers to oral health thousands of disadvantaged people face.”

According to the Michigan Oral Health Coalition’s 2013 Michigan Check-Up on Oral Health, there are a total of 4,676 uninsured residents and 8,053 residents living in poverty in Mecosta County.

The free clinic will provide services for fillings, extractions, limited root canals, replacements (up to six teeth) and cleanings based on the priority needed. The free clinic will not be able to provide bridges, crowns, dentures, implants, orthodontics or extraction of unerupted wisdom teeth.

Certain medical conditions may prevent treatment, but everyone is welcome. There are no income limitations, but childcare will not be provided for children not receiving treatment, MDA officials said.

“Last year’s MOM event was such a rewarding experience and tremendous success, we are looking forward to providing that same need this year in Big Rapids,” said Margaret Gingrich, a Big Rapids dentist and local chair of MOM. “Seeing patients walk out of the clinic with happy and healthy smiles, makes us smile.”

During last year’s MOM event, which took place in Saginaw at Saginaw Vally State University, a total of 1,136 patients received nearly 5,500 procedures – worth more than $900,000 in free dental care.

In addition to dental treatment, patients also receive information about the importance of good daily oral hygiene, a healthy diet and access to care options available for them to obtain routine preventative care.

“Progress has been made through the continued expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental program and the inclusion of dental benefits in the Healthy Michigan plan,” said Stephen Harris, a Farmington Hills dentist and chairman of MOM. “Oral health education is the most cost-effective way to reduce oral disease.”

The costs to hold a Mission of Mercy event is about $180,000. The event is primarily  funded through donations, which include grants, private contributions, dental supplies, meals and snacks, tables and chairs, office supplies and other items.

Major contributors include the Delta Dental Foundation, Benco Dental, Henry Schein Dental, Mecosta County Community Foundation, the Michigan Department of Community Health and Patterson Dental.

Free transportation is available for those in Osceola, Lake and Mecosta counties. For pick-up and drop-off locations contact, Big Rapids Dial-A-Ride at (231) 796-8675 or Mecosta and Osceola Transportation Authority at (231) 796-4896 and in Lake County, Yates Dial-A-Ride at (231) 745-7311.