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Mission of Mercy: More than 1,250 volunteers will help run two-day free dental care event

BEMIDJI — Dr. John Lueth was a busy man Wednesday.

And he hopes to be even busier come Friday and Saturday.

The Bemidji dentist is the local chairman for the Minnesota Mission of Mercy to be hosted this week at the Sanford Center. The Mission of Mercy is a two-day event that offers free dental care to those who need it the most — children and adults without insurance, or the under-insured or those who simply don’t have access to treatment.

And while Lueth has been juggling a lot of last-minute details, he certainly hasn’t been alone in preparing for the event that aims to serve 1,000 people each day Friday and Saturday.

"We have not only our local volunteers, but a great group of volunteers from across the state," he said.

Nearly 1,300 volunteers have signed up to help at the event. As of Wednesday, here’s a breakdown of some of the numbers, according to the Minnesota Dental Association:

E Total volunteers: 1,280 (from all areas of Minnesota)

E Total dentists: 195

E Dental hygienists: 98

E Dental assistants: 169

E University of Minnesota Students (dental, hygiene, assistant, medical, pharmacy students): 205

E Bemidji volunteers: 242, not including volunteers from surrounding communities.

Local businesses have stepped up to the plate, too, Lueth said.

"We’ve had tremendous representation from across the community, from all types of business," Lueth said. Many local businesses have donated goods or services, or offered discounts on needed materials, he said.

Lining up

A truck delivering 100 dental chairs and other equipment is parked at the Sanford Center and will be unloaded today. Equipment unloading and installation is coordinated by America’s Dentists Care Foundation, and they have it down to military precision, said Lueth, who has participated in several MOM events. "It’s going to be a beehive of activity around here," Lueth said Wednesday from the Sanford Center.

MOM events have become popular around the country, and it’s not unheard of for people to be lined up the night before doors open, organizers said.

Minnesota hosted its first MOM event last year in Mankato, where more than 2,060 patients were treated with a total care value of more than $1.3 million. Lueth said state and local organizers are hoping to match that number here.

And to further promote the Bemidji event, Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday proclaimed Friday as Minnesota Mission of Mercy Day.

How it works

After patients register, which is just a few simple questions, organizers said, the first step will be a dental "triage." That’s where the patients’ most critical needs are addressed, such as for pain and infection. From there, they will be directed to whatever services are needed.

Volunteer dentists and hygienists will provide cleanings, fillings, extractions and limited treatment for partial dental appliances, as well as root canals on selected teeth. However, patients won’t be able receive such treatment as crowns or root canals on molars implants, full denture workup or have wisdom teeth removed.

Both Friday and Saturday, Lueth said they will monitor what services are performed so they know just how many patients can be seen while still maintaining a 5:30 a.m. to about 5 p.m. time schedule. Some patients may attend both days, he said.

Matt Cory

Matt Cory is the Editor of the Pioneer. Cory grew up in East Grand Forks and is a graduate of the University of North Dakota. He worked as a reporter, copy editor and editor at the Grand Forks Herald from 1993 to 2013, when he joined the Pioneer as Editor.

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