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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 22, 2018

Free, two-day dental clinic set for this week in Cedar Rapids

By Chelsea Keenan, The Gazette | Sep 26, 2017

A two-day community dental clinic will provide free care to low-income Eastern Iowans this Friday and Saturday.

The Iowa Dental Association’s Mission of Mercy will be back in Cedar Rapids at the U.S. Cellular Center. Doors open at 6 a.m. and patients will be seen on a first-come, first-served basis.

The dental clinic will provide free extractions, fillings, dental cleanings and removable tooth replacements, organizers said. Volunteer dentists will not be able to provide full dentures, crowns, root canals or implants.

“It’s very labor intensive, but there is a lot of satisfaction that comes from helping those in our community,” said Dr. Karen Besler, who serves on this year’s planning committee and is the owner of Dental Associates of Cedar Rapids. “They are able to get their most urgent, high-priority needs addressed.”

The Iowa Dental Foundation — the not-for-profit arm of the Iowa Dental Association — works each year to raise $300,000 in in-kind and financial donations to put on the event. Now in its 10th year, Mission of Mercy brings in 100 portable dental chairs and 1,000 volunteers — nearly half of which are dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants or dental students at the University of Iowa.

The dental clinic takes place in a different Iowa city each year, organizers noted, and the average patient will travel between one and two hours to receive services. In the event’s 10-year history, the Iowa Dental Association has provided $8.5 million worth of free dental care to about 13,000 low-income Iowans.

Iowa was one of the few states in the country to offer dental services to the Medicaid expansion population through the Dental Wellness Program, but Salisbury said it’s still difficult for low-income adults to find and afford dental care.

“They’ll let their teeth go and end up in the emergency room, which is hugely expensive and nothing can be done for them,” she said. “You’ll be given antibiotics and pain medicine and then referred to a dentist but they generally don’t go.

“It’s quite a problem in our state and in the U.S.”

In Eastern Iowa, there is a higher rate of oral health disease hospitalizations than the state at large, according to a 2015 Linn County Public Health report — 16 per 100,000 people in Linn County compared with 10 per 100,000 people in the state.

A healthy mouth and teeth can affect overall health as well. Studies have shown people who don’t have good oral health have higher rates of diabetes and heart disease, and a recent study even found a link between poor dental health and dementia.

When the event was held in Cedar Rapids in 2010, nearly 1,500 people came, she added, including one man who got in line almost 24 hours before doors opened. Salisbury wanted to find out why he was there that early.

“He wouldn’t look at me,” she recalled. “But he said, ‘I’m here because my grandson is frightened of me when I laugh or smile’” because he had no front teeth.

The man was fitted for a removable tooth replacement and afterward he was so happy and excited, she said.

“People come who are in such terrible pain and have been for quite some time, and when they leave, it’s gone,” she said. “It’s very rewarding.”

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