1,000 good-hearted volunteers to brighten smiles with Mission of Mercy

Two thousand local smiles are expected to be brighter by the end of next week, thanks to more than 1,000 dental professionals and community volunteers.

The Mission of Mercy – transforming Concordia’s Memorial Auditorium into a 100-chair dental practice – opens its doors at 5 a.m. Friday, July 22. By 5 p.m. that Saturday, more than $1 million in all kinds of dental services will have been provided to anyone and everyone who needs that help … no questions asked.

Chairman Wayne Christianson of Moorhead, recently retired from practice, heads a local group that has recruited a mammoth army to provide free oral health care to anyone who needs it. Spearheaded by the Minnesota Dental Foundation, the project is in its fifth year, taking on its largest community so far. With the help of the neighboring North Dakota Dental Foundation, Mission of Mercy is targeting the area within 100 miles of Fargo-Moorhead.

“What strikes me is how oral health is usually the last thing people in need take care of,” Scott Anderson observes. He’s the executive director of the North Dakota group and new to the field of dental care. “Yet it affects so many aspects of someone’s life – their comfort, their self-confidence, even their ability to get through a job interview. Having healthy teeth is a real game changer.”

Wayne, who has volunteered for similar missions in Mankato, Bemidji and Duluth, expects 250 dentists to converge on Moorhead next week, along with nearly 500 hygienists and dental assistants. If this year’s event matched previous missions, they’ll be extracting 1,300 teeth; taking 1,700 X-rays; completing 75 root canals; fashioning 1,500 fillings of amalgam and resin; performing 400 fluoride treatments and more than 300 sealants; doing 750 cleanings; and installing 100 partial dentures.

Specific Skills Still Needed

Thirty-two dental students from the University of Minnesota will join the practicing and retired pros. The entire dental hygiene class from the North Dakota College of Science will be on hand, along with members of the M State program.

“We’re still in great need of dental lab technicians to make those dentures,” Wayne notes. “Otherwise, we’re in great shape.”

Retired Moorhead Police veteran Bob Larson and Scott Anderson are Wayne’s key lieutenants. Bob has been recruiting people who will handle security for the busy event, assisting with parking and crowd control. Auxiliary police volunteers will work with him around the clock both days, along with Concordia’s security staff and Moorhead police officers.

Scott has overseen the recruitment of the 600 “civilian” volunteers who will help patients. Most of those slots have been filled, thanks in large part to area dental offices and businesses getting out the word to their patients and customers.

One essential need remains unfilled this week, however – translators who can bridge the gap between some patients and their dentists. “We really need their help both Friday and Saturday,” he explains, “especially people who can speak Spanish and Somali.”

Many kinds of help are coming from many quarters. MATBUS, the local bus system, will offer free transportation to and from the site throughout both days. Tickets are being distributed around the cities; drivers will also have them on hand. Those with mobility problems can also travel free on the system’s Paratransit.

Gate City Bank is picking up the cost of the paratransit rides. The bank is also funding refreshments and meals in the volunteers’ break room. “And we didn’t even have to ask!” Wayne says. “They asked us how they could help. Don’t we live in a great community?”

Two semi loads of dental equipment will set out from Wichita, Kansas, early next week, arriving at the Concordia auditorium Wednesday night to be set up the next day. They’re provided by America’s Dentists Care Foundation; every week they’re trucked to and from a different city, part of a national program begun in 2000 in Virginia. Out-of-pocket costs of $225,000 to $250,000 are being picked up by the two state’s dental foundations, with other support from Delta Dental of Minnesota, Patterson Dental and Henry Schein Dental.

Lining Up for Dental Care

Are you one of the hundreds of area residents who are under-served – because of its cost and availability or where you live? Mission of Mercy will offer the help you need in a dignified, professional setting.

Getting dental care is as simple as lining up Friday and Saturday mornings at the auditorium entrance at the corner of Eighth Street and 12th Avenue South. Patient parking is available across the street and west of the building.

Doors will open daily at 5 a.m. Wayne predicts some patients may already be waiting outside each morning, if past experience runs true to form. Prospective patients will be admitted to the reception area in order of arrival. They’ll keep coming in until about 2 p.m. each day to give the professionals enough time to complete all procedures by day’s end at 5 p.m.

“It’s strictly first come, first served,” Wayne explains. “We have absolutely no requirements or questions asked. You’ll be greeted when you come in, then go to a triage area where your oral health needs will be assessed.” He anticipates that many patients will have multiple needs; they’ll be ranked in urgency, with the most serious attended to first.

“When your turn comes, a volunteer administrator will meet you and accompany you to your first procedure,” he continues. “If you need additional services, just go back to the end of the line and start over again.”

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