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Free Minnesota Mission of Mercy dental care clinic fills need

Preparing for a procedure to fix a chipped tooth, dental assistant Jennie Murray performs a quick evaluation of 12-year-old Emily Anderson’s teeth. Watching the evaluation is Anderson’s siblings. From left to right are Sammi, 4, Nick, 10, Avery, 7 and Eli, 6. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 2
Antonio Wanez is all smiles as Dr. Doug Erickson of Duluth adjusts new dentures thanks to the Mission of Mercy program on Friday afternoon. More than 800 area residents received free dental care; the doors open again at 5:30 a.m. today at the Sanford Center. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer2 / 2

BEMIDJI — Jennifer Anderson doesn’t know how she would have been able to afford to provide her children with dental care had a free dental care clinic not set up operations at the Sanford Center Friday and today.

The second annual Minnesota Mission of Mercy is offering free dental care to children and adults who are uninsured, underinsured and unable to obtain dental treatment.

"With five children and no insurance, it’s kind of expensive to go to the dentist," Anderson said.

Anderson said her children, Emily, 12, Nick, 10, Avery, 7, Eli, 6 and Sammi, 4, received dental care in the past but she has been unable to seek treatment for them recently due to financial strains.

Anderson’s family members were among 400 patients who were treated at Mission of Mercy by noon Friday, about seven hours after it opened, according to MOM officials. More than 800 patients were served by the end of the day.

Learning about the event through promotional material on Facebook, Anderson arrived at the Sanford Center at 8 a.m. to ensure her children had the opportunity to benefit from oral health.

"It all went very smoothly," said Anderson as she watched one child undergo a cleaning. "The whole process was quick and there was very little waiting."

According to Lindsay Strand, communications director for the Minnesota Dental Association, some of Friday’s first patients arrived at the Sanford Center around midnight to seek treatment at 5:30 a.m., when MOM volunteers began treating clients.

After checking-in and filling out paperwork, patients were assessed of their dental needs and treatment began. Dental services included cleanings, fillings, extractions and root canals.

"We came to get cleanings," Anderson said.

After being treated by pediatric dentists, one of Anderson’s children, Emily, also received a filling and, to her happy surprise, corrections to a chipped tooth.

Emily said she chipped one of her front teeth a few years ago playing with one of her brothers and has never liked the way her smile looked ever since.

"I was really happy to get it fixed," she said. "I really like it (the smile) now because I didn’t like my smile that much before."

Jennie Murray, the dental assistant who treated Emily, estimates the procedure to fix her tooth is worth about $200, the same as a typical teeth cleaning.

"It has been very rewarding and I’m amazed at how organized everything is and how appreciative the patients are," Murray said, a first-time MOM volunteer.

Murray, who practices dentistry in St. Paul, is among eight other professionals from the same practice.

Dr. Daniel Raether, a pediatric dentist from the same practice, is volunteering for MOM for the second time.

"Volunteering for MOM sensitizes us to issues we might not be aware of, and we learn so much from them (patients)," Raether said.

Sharing similar views about volunteering for MOM, Dr. Jim Nickman, the pediatric lead for MOM, has been involved with many MOM events across the country.

"Every child deserves the best care possible," Nickman said. "Regardless of health care reform, this is helping people in need and I just want to help."

Since this was the family’s first time to a MOM event, Anderson said she wasn’t sure how the process would work, but was pleased with the way everything was handled.

"They (volunteers) were very professional and I knew they’d be great," said Anderson, who works in the food service department at Bemidji High School. "I wasn’t worried about the staff and everyone should absolutely come."