Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
E-mail this article
Print this Article

More than 400 health professionals volunteered their services Friday and Saturday at Chopticon High School, providing free dental exams to hundreds of Southern Marylanders.

Volunteers included dentists, dental assistants, hygienists, oral surgeons, medical doctors, pharmacists, X-ray technicians and nurses.

“We raised about $60,000 to help make this event happen,” said Kae Clarke, facilities and logistics coordinator for the clinic, Southern Maryland Mission of Mercy. “There were small donations of anywhere from $25 to $50, and then there were large donations — $10,000 or so. On top of that, we’ve got dental professionals who have come down to volunteer from all over the state, dental students from the University of Maryland, equipment donated from different organizations, and other regular community folk who just wanted to come in to help.”

The clinic allowed more than 700 underinsured and uninsured people 19 and older to receive dental care.

“About 50 people went through the prescreening process at the health department in Charles County, another 150 or so in Calvert, and just shy of 250 here in St. Mary’s County,” Clarke said, adding that on-site assessments also were available on a first-come, first-served basis to those who were unable to complete the health assessment before the event. “It’s just amazing how many people you find that need this help because of their lack of adequate dental insurance.”

Mission of Mercy first was launched by the Virginia Dental Health Foundation in 2000. Since then, more than 50 MOM projects have been hosted in Virginia. The first Maryland Mission of Mercy project was hosted in the western part of the state in 2010, and a second in fall 2011. Last weekend’s Mission of Mercy event was the first of its kind in Southern Maryland.

Services offered included restorative fillings, minor oral surgeries, cleanings, extractions, basic denture and prosthetic work and root canals. St. John’s Pharmacy provided all medications for the event at its own expense, Clarke said, and groups including Phoenix Lab, Henry Schein Dental, Dexis and more were all on-site to offer their expertise during the two-day event. Free oral cancer screenings using the OralCDx BrushTest also were available.

“We have a 55-chair dental clinic set up here in the gym, and it has all the capabilities of your regular dentist office — 10 chairs for hygiene, 14 chairs for restoration, 15 chairs for oral surgeries and the rest for extractions,” Clarke said amid the hustle and bustle Friday morning. “There are also six chairs total in the three dental trailers outside, as well as spots for X-rays and the like, so there’s a lot going on.”

For many in attendance, the dental work was long overdue and desperately needed, with some patrons having gone years since their last dental visit.

“We’ve removed as many as nine teeth on one patient today,” Dr. Martin Barley, co-coordinator for the event with Dr. Garner Morgan, said on Friday morning. “Some people just need a lot of work.”

Dental hygienist Marie Wingfield, who drove in from Essex on Friday morning to help, added, “So many people don’t get an opportunity to get this kind of thing done, so when I found out about the opportunity, I had to participate. ... It’s one thing to work for a private practice, but it’s another to give back wanting nothing in return.”

And the appreciation was clear among the weekend’s patients.

“I’ve got three extractions that need to be done and a couple cavities to be filled,” Lexington Park resident Tom Quinn said. “But it’s a great thing to see all these people volunteering their time that they make high-dollar for to help people that are unable to get the dental care they need. Seeing that room where all those people are working ... it’s an amazing sight.”

Quinn said that at the time he registered for the services he was unemployed, but has since found a job with minimal dental benefits.

“The insurance I have now covers the basics — cleanings and preventative care,” he said. “But things like extractions and fillings ... those have to come out of my pocket, so I’m glad to be able to get this work done today.”

Charles County resident Annie Miles, who made the trek from Newburg on Friday, added, “I went to a dentist up in White Plains, and he actually pulled the wrong tooth. ... That was back in March, and now I find that I can’t eat or drink anything too hot or cold because it hurts too much.”

Miles has dental insurance but said finding a dentist who will accept it is a whole different story.

“I tried calling seven or eight different dentists trying to find someone who would take my insurance card, but none of them would,” she said. “Finally I talked to someone at the health department in Waldorf who told me about this free clinic today, so I came down. I’m nervous, but it’s worth it.

“If I could thank them all, I’d just say to all these volunteers thank you for what you do. ... It is really wonderful what they are doing here.”