By I. Ford, Oregon Optimist
With the combined effort of about 1,000 volunteers, the Chemeketa Community College gym was transformed into an enormous free dental clinic, operating June 11 and 12. The volunteers, including dentists, dental hygienists, assistants, and community members, treated about 1,200 patients on a first-come, first-served basis. For many patients, the opportunity for free dental care was worth arriving at 9:30 Thursday morning and waiting all day and all night.
This event is the Oregon Dental Association’s fifth annual Mission of Mercy (OrMOM). In previous years, it has been hosted in Portland and
Medford, and is now in Salem for the first time. The clinic is open from
6 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days, with doors opening at 4 a.m. The volunteers treat patients in need of cleanings, fillings, extractions and limited partial dentures. Some volunteers also assist by acting as translators for Spanish, Russian and Vietnamese speaking patients.
“We will give about $1,000,000 worth of dental services at this clinic,” said Christina Bodamer from the Oregon Dental Association.
“It’s really hard to get a job when you’re missing a front tooth,” said Dr. Selma Pierce, a retired local dentist volunteering her skills at the clinic. “We treated a gentleman last year who said that potential employers always thought he was unfriendly because he never smiled, but it was because he was missing a tooth.”
Poor dental health can lead to poor general health, and can even be life-threatening. It can also affect a child’s learning abilities for the worse.
After showing up at the door, patients are guided through a smooth check-in and triage process, leading them to whatever treatments they require that day. Families are also educated on effective dental hygiene practices in order to prevent oral health problems in the future.
“Dental decay is a preventable disease,” said Dr. Weston Heringer, Jr.,
the 2014 OrMOM Chair. “Good dental hygiene and regular check-ups with a dentist can help ensure good oral health. With effective oral hygiene and prevention programs there wouldn’t be a need for patients to wait in a long line for emergency care.”
“We also give referrals and help patients find a ‘home’ clinic for ongoing care,” said Dr. Pierce.
Many volunteers donate their time and skills from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on both days. “People come to help out, and sometimes they just get addicted,” said Bodamer.
“When we hosted the clinic in Medford two years ago, a big group of dentists from Portland all took the trip down together. It was like a carpool train,” said Dr. Pierce.
Many of the assistants were dental students from schools such as OIT working alongside their professors.
The event’s budget is about $25,000, with much support coming from OrMOM’s many sponsors. The space for the clinic was donated by Chemeketa Community College, which also supplied security personnel and employees to assist with the event.
“We are excited to be holding the clinic outside of the Portland area again this year. We know there is still a great need for access to critical dental care all over Oregon,” said ODA Executive Director, Conor McNulty. “Although charity care is not a solution to the problem, we want to do what we can by helping some of those patients suffering from dental infections or pain.”
For more information, visit oregondental.org .
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