Addressing oral health needs in rural communities
An estimated 3.8 million Virginians—more than 47% of our total population—do not have dental insurance according to the Virginia Health Care Foundation. Dr. Terry Dickinson, Executive Director of the Virginia Dental Association, created the Mission of Mercy (MOM) program in 2000 to address this issue and provide high-quality dental care for underserved Virginians. Their mobile clinics travel across the state to provide preventive, restorative and surgical dental treatments to more than 4,000 low-income individuals each year.
Members of CFC’s dental team traveled to help run one such clinic in Wise, VA at the local county fairgrounds July 22-24. Dr. Andrew Vorona, CFC’s staff dentist; Jamie Davila, Dental Hygienist; and Anne Cressin, Director of Dental Clinic Operations, spoke warmly about their experiences with the MOM mobile dental clinic.
“I definitely enjoyed it,” said Dr. Vorona. “You have people who live in rural parts of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee coming because there’s no other opportunity for them to get dental work done. A lot of them spend the night in the parking lot, and then they’re waiting in line in the wee hours of the morning.”
Patients will go in one of three directions, said Dr. Vorona: extractions, fillings, or hygiene for a cleaning. Jamie Davila helped a memorable patient who came to her hygiene chair: “A 17 year old boy came through my line after driving four and a half hours to Wise. As far as his dental health, it was pretty advanced for gum disease.” This particular patient had not had any dental or medical care for the last seven years; after his father abandoned the family, he neglected his personal and oral hygiene, because he believed no one cared about him. Jamie spent an hour and a half cleaning the teeth on one side of his mouth and encouraged him to return the next day to complete the rest.
“The very next day, he showed up with a huge smile on his face, tears in his eyes, and he said, ‘I can’t believe it. This whole side of my face feels so good. My teeth are really white, and they’re straight, and they’re nice.’ I’m glad he came to my chair.”
Those who worked at the mobile site had a long two days, arriving to the Wise County campgrounds at 6:30 am and finishing their work around 5:00 pm. VCU Dental students were also there to help, another enjoyable experience for Dr. Vorona. “It’s a pleasure to work with them. As a dentist, a lot of times you pull teeth and will have an assistant; I paired up with a 3rd year or 4th year dental student who was new at pulling teeth, and they’d either work with me or I’d help and show them a thing or two that I’ve learned the hard way. That was half the fun of it for me.”
CFC’s Dental team volunteers with Mission of Mercy mobile clinics twice a year.