Minnesota Mission of Mercy will bring its annual free dental-care event to the Twin Cities next month, after five years of touring around the state.
Dentists and assistants coordinated by the Minnesota Dental Association and the Minnesota Dental Foundation will aim to see up to 2,000 patients on Sept. 7-8 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
“For all the health care it provides, Minnesota is one of the best states to get sick in, but it’s not as good for dental care,” said Dr. Steve Litton, president of the Minnesota Dental Foundation. “The reimbursement rate to dentists for public care patients is among the lowest in the country.”
The number of Minnesotans without dental care is declining, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. More than 25 percent of Minnesotans lack dental insurance and most of them are 65 or older.
Still, low-income patients in Minnesota may have to wait weeks or longer to see a dentist who takes public-care patients. The free two-day clinic is faster, but the wait may still be several hours. At the previous events in Mankato, Bemidji, Moorhead and Duluth, people started lining up the day before the event, Litton said.
Sponsors led by Delta Dental are paying for the event.
The event at the convention center is open to all, though children under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. No IDs or other personal documentation is checked, but a registration and release form need to be completed.
Doors open at 5:30 a.m. each day and close at 5 p.m. Those in line on the first day who aren’t admitted can stick around for the second day or return later, but only about 1,000 patients will be served each day. Organizers say that patients should be prepared to spend the entire day at the event.
Procedures include cleanings, fillings, root canals on select teeth, extractions and oral-hygiene instruction. Treatments that require multiple visits will not be offered, such as full dentures, bridges, root canals on molars, crowns, extractions of unexposed wisdom teeth and implants.
More than 1,500 volunteers will provide expertise, including dentists, hygienists, dental assistants, dental therapists and translators. Nearly 150 dental chairs are being brought to the convention center for the event. “It takes a whole day to set up the drainage lines and the electricity,” Litton said. “It’s like a mobile MASH unit.”
Organizers hope to fit in as many visitors as possible in the two days but will also distribute information on low-income clinics. Those unable to make it to the event can call 1-800-950-3368 or go to MNdental.org and click on “public resources” and then “low cost clinics.” The site lists clinics in the Twin Cities as well as in greater Minnesota. One year-round statewide free program (Dentallifeline.org/minnesota or 1-888-235-5826) has waits up to a year or longer in some counties, according to the website.
Financial support for Mission of Mercy comes from a $225,000 grant from leading sponsor Delta Dental, individuals and organizations. “Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation is honored to help make this event possible again this year and proud to say that ... nearly all Delta Dental employees will volunteer at the event,” Joe Lally, executive director of the Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation, said in a statement.