Editorial: Dentists on a mission

  • Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2013 12:16 a.m.

“A lack of dental care for low-income and Medicaid-eligible adults and children often results in severe or persistent pain, inability to eat, swollen faces, and increased susceptibility to other medical conditions.”

That grim prognosis is from a 1999 report by the N.C. Institute of Medicine Task Force on Dental Care Access, a study group assembled to provide guidance on how to improve access to dental care for North Carolina’s low-income and impoverished residents. The task force found that North Carolina ranked close to the bottom among states in the number of dentists per population and the availability of treatment under Medicaid.

More than a decade later, access to dental care is still a serious problem, one that recently has been compounded by high unemployment, declining employer-sponsored health plans, rising costs and overburdened public-aid programs.

It’s a situation that cries out for mercy — or many Missions of Mercy. This volunteer outreach program, operated by the N.C. Dental Society, addresses the dental-care access problem through free clinics held around the state. While there are school-based assessments and programs that help provide dental care for youngsters (including the Dental Society’s Give Kids a Smile initiative), the Missions of Mercy program addresses the access-to-care problem facing many adults.

One of its missions is now coming to Salisbury in September, thanks to the efforts of a pastor, First Presbyterian’s Dr. Jim Dunkin, and a dentist, Dr. David Mayberry, who are coordinating the program with Dr. Bill Blaylock, director of the Missions of Mercy clinics. Having seen this program’s impact elsewhere, they know the difference it can make in people’s lives.

But it’s a massive undertaking, with the goal of treating up to 1,000 patients over two days. Its success will depend on community support, whether in the form of donations or both medical and lay person volunteers who can help staff the event, planned for Sept. 27-28. The logistics are comparable to deploying a small army in the battle against tooth decay and related issues.

Too often, the importance of good dental care gets overlooked in the health coverage debate. But our teeth and gums have a direct connecton to our general health, as well as to our self image. Thanks to Missions of Mercy and the medical personnel who generously donate their services, more Rowan residents will soon have an opportunity to obtain treatment that will relieve their pain and enable them to enjoy a greatly improved quality of life.

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