A woman clutches a small teddy bear to her chest as Dr. Matthew Lonier, DDS, prepares a tooth for a filling. But instead of being in his private office at North Central Family Dentistry, this procedure is being performed inside the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, surround by dozens of other dentists and hundreds of men, women and children patiently waiting for their turn, inside the building.
Outside, hundreds more wait in a long, winding line.
It is the second year that Dr. Lonier has participated in the fourth-annual Dental Mission of Mercy event, held Dec. 11-12 and organized by the Central Arizona Dental Society Foundation (CADSF). Mission of Mercy brings together hundreds of dental professionals who provide free care to adults and children, many of whom waited overnight in line just to be seen, despite the cold and rainy weather that weekend.
Dr. Greg Pafford, who has a family dental practice in midtown Phoenix, had one patient on Friday morning who traveled the day before from Tucson on the bus, with a broken foot, and waiting in line overnight for 9 hours. “This isn’t just a local event, it’s a statewide outreach,” he said.
Dental services such as fillings, extractions, cleanings, as well as limited lab work—including partials and bridges—were provided. The emphasis was on relieving pain and infection. All patients first underwent a limited medical screening, and those who had medically compromised conditions, such as extremely high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes or severe disabilities, were referred to other community resources.
“Arizona residents suffer from higher rates of dental disease than many other states, and this is one way we can give back to the community while providing critical dental care to those who need it most,” said Dr. Jacqueline Allen, a Phoenix endodontist and CADS Foundation Board president-elect. “We also hope to raise awareness about the increasing difficulties that low-income adults and children face in accessing necessary dental care.”
Arizona discontinued adult dental AHCCCS benefits in 2010 during the budget cuts of the great recession. “The demand for care during this event proves how much the most vulnerable members of our community need this program to be restored,” Allen pointed out.
A recent survey found that 21 percent of Arizona adults and 31 percent of all Arizona children have never had a dental check-up. But on this weekend, the coliseum floor was transformed into a clinic with more than 100 portable dental units staffed by nearly 1,500 volunteer dentists, hygienists, lab technicians, assistants and lay people. Approximately $2 million was delivered to close to 2,000 patients during the two-day period.
“I’ve been doing this for many years now and I truly believe that the volunteers get as much out of it as the patients do,” Dr. Pafford said. “There’s nothing that really compares to the feeling that you get when you look back and realize how many people you helped, how many lives you touched, in just two days.”
To learn more about the Central Arizona Dental Society Foundation Mission of Mercy, visit https://www.azmom.org.