Set in Eau Claire for the first time since its start eight years ago, a dental clinic expects to serve more than 2,000 people in two days.
More than 1,000 dental professionals from 192 communities in Wisconsin will provide free cleanings, fillings, extractions, root canals and partial dentures to people who might not otherwise be able to afford dental care as part of a statewide traveling dental clinic, Mission of Mercy.
“The Eau Claire community and other volunteers from across the state are coming together to host this large-scale dental charitable event and provide critical dental care to those who need it most,” said Dr. Jeffrey Jones, a retired oral and maxillofacial surgeon from Eau Claire who is the local WDA Mission of Mercy local committee chairman.
Serving patients will be 155 volunteer dentists, 238 dental hygienists and dental assistants, 186 students from the Marquette University School of Dentistry and hundreds of volunteers from the community.
“As dentists, we do care about our patients and the people of Wisconsin,” said Dr. Kent Vandehaar, a Chippewa Falls dentist at Willow Street Dental. “This is one way of trying to help people in need.”
Vandehaar has volunteered for all eight years of the program, which was started in La Crosse in 2009 by the Wisconsin Dental Association and WDA Foundation.
The program has served more than 14,300 people with dental care totaling more than $8 million since its inception.
Vandehaar said the partial denture clinic is where the hugs and tears happen.
“I’ve had comments that after they see themselves with a full smile, they say, ‘Wow, I can laugh at jokes again,’ or ‘I can go apply for a job now,’ ” he said. “Those are powerful stories that stick with you.”
According to a Mission of Mercy fact sheet, dental care amounted to less than 1 percent ($65.2 million) of the $7.1 billion spent on the Medicaid program in 2011, the most recent data available.
About $190 million was provided in dental care to Medicaid enrollees, meaning dentists donated the rest in services, according to the fact sheet.
“We want to raise awareness to the problem that’s out there that people have problems accessing dental care,” Vandehaar said, noting the Medicaid system falls short in trying to solve the problem.
Patients should arrive early to the clinic, as the patient slots are typically filled by 10 a.m., organizers said.
For more information visit wda.org/wda-foundation/mission-of-mercy.
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