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Mission of Mercy free dental care event proves successful for patients, volunteers

BEMIDJI – After more than 20 hours of free dental care being offered here to those in need, Minnesota Mission of Mercy served 1,174 patients during their two-day event at the Sanford Center.

According to Dr. Alejandro Aguirre, chair of the MN MOM, 1,652 patient encounters were documented by MN MOM officials since opening for operation Friday morning.

Patient encounters mean some patients received more than one dental procedure throughout the event.

Over the course of the event, Aguirre said Saturday saw a decrease in patient traffic, with 806 patient encounters, compared to Friday, which saw 846 patient encounters.

With a total of 6,879 procedures conducted, an estimated $961,724 worth of dental care was provided Friday and Saturday, according to Aguirre.

With the goal of providing $1 million of dental treatment to 2,000 patients, Dr. John Leuth said they came close to their goal and that the event was a "success."

A Bemidji dentist, Leuth is the local chairman for the MN MOM and began organizing the event in January 2012.

"There’s a huge range of people who get caught in the middle between coverage and no coverage," Leuth said, describing the event’s importance to people who received treatment. "Bemidji had the resources, the facility and is centered in northwest Minnesota, where a lot of dental care is not available to people for a variety of reasons."

Leuth said he observed "excellent patient participation" from the community and outreaching areas, with some patients travelling more than 200 miles to receive dental care. A surprise to Leuth, he said a patient from Green Valley, Arizona was among the list of patients treated.

There were little to no problems with the equipment and patient/volunteer interactions during the two-day treatment event, according to Leuth. He added both dental professional and lay volunteers "exceeded expectations" and that the number of people interested in volunteering was greater than expected.

With a goal of recruiting 1,000 volunteers, Leuth said they MN MOM documented more than 1,200 people in attendance to help out.

"I want to emphasize how grateful I am for the volunteers who stepped up," Leuth said. "On this mission (MOM), we’re just neighbors helping neighbors."

Describing the patient cycle process, Leuth said each patient received about an hour’s worth of dental care per visit, being treated for their most serious dental needs first. After being treated, patients were asked to fill out a survey with an area provided for comments.

Being able to read these comments is one of the most meaningful moments for Leuth, as he gets a sense of how much receiving dental care impacts each patient.

With a differing comment from each patient, every patient’s write-up shares a common theme: ‘I’m so grateful for this opportunity.’

"I want to remember the stories and share them with people," a smiling Leuth said. "I want to share this with them so they understand the importance of doing something like this."

After reading the comment sheets, Leuth said they will be hung up for patients and volunteers to read.

All 1229 volunteers were invited to a dinner as a way for MN MOM to thank them, as well as to share with them the statistics on just how many people they interacted with.

By 10 p.m., a MN MOM semi trailer had been loaded with dental equipment and plans for the third annual MN MOM in 2014 were already underway.