For most, going to the dentist seems to be more of a pain than a luxury, but that’s not the case for everyone.
The National Association of Dental Plans estimates that around 74 million Americans were without dental coverage in 2016. The NADP also reported that those without dental coverage are 67 percent more likely to have heart disease, 50 percent more likely to have osteoporosis and 29 percent more likely to have diabetes.
The lack of primary care for those uninsured can lead to a multitude of secondary health issues that they may not have the resources to treat.
To account for this lack of dental care, once every two years on the Eastern Shore, The Mission of Mercy provides free dental services to the public, making procedures such as extractions and fillings accessible to those who cannot afford dental care.
In 2017, over 1,000 patients were treated by Mission of Mercy, leading to over $1.126 million worth of services generated by the event.
The Mission of Mercy is an effort that spans across America, in several cities. How did it end up in Salisbury? Dr. Rowland Holsinger has helped the program since its origins seven years ago.
“In 2012, we had an organizational meeting to decide whether or not we even wanted to try to do this on the Eastern Shore," Holsinger said. "And I thought about it and the positions we’d need to fill and decided I would be willing to be Dental Lead.”
Four Mission of Mercy events later and Holsinger is still Dental Lead.
The Mission of Mercy is 100 percent volunteer-powered, not only by licensed dentists, hygienists and assistants who are donating their time and efforts to the cause, but also adults and students from the community.
An example of interdisciplinary work, you’ll find pharmaceutical students sorting medication for patients, the comfort core easing patients’ nerves, runners who relay information and other volunteers performing equally critical roles.
Mission of Mercy is an opportunity for students to offer their strengths and skills to the cause.
Junior and chemistry major at Salisbury University Suly Del Valle volunteered to be an interpreter for the event.
“I went around and translated for all those who could not speak English," Del Valle said. "A lot of my work today revolved around filling out paperwork and forms, since some of the patients couldn’t write.”
The value of Del Valle’s work was shown through the doctor-patient interactions, but also through the appreciation the patients exhibited for her service.
“When I’d translate for them, the patients were so grateful," Del Valle said. "Without a translator, they wouldn’t have been able to get their point across to their provider.”
The MOM’s mission is “to restore dignity, ‘Healing through Love’ by providing free healthcare,” and this past weekend, that mission was achieved.
As you walked through the clinic, you could see happy tears streaming down faces, grins from ear to ear, and patients taking pictures with their providers.
Cimarron Sexton, a patient from the Salisbury area, was elated with the service she received at Mission of Mercy, especially the difference the comfort core made with her treatment.
“I’m a big coward when it comes to things like this, so a woman stayed with me the whole time and helped me," sexton said. "They hooked me up with a really great dentist that was patient and kind, and so this was the best experience I’ve ever had going to a dentist. That’s what made the experience here, was the people. They were really nice and really fantastic.”
SU as an institution values helping and enriching the surrounding community through outreach and service while pushing students to do so.
Holsinger shared his belief the the work goes beyond personal gain, for the biggest gain is in helping others.
“One of the problems that we have today with anyone under the age of 40 is that they’re not joiners," Holsinger said. "There’s a lot of times that they ask ‘what is in it for me’ and I think what is in it for the individual is how you’ll feel afterwards.”
Volunteer experiences such as the Mission of Mercy are not only great for giving back to the community, but also honing real-life skills in your field. PR track majors can help handle the event’s publicity, biology majors can help with dental assisting or sterilization and community health majors can help educate patients on their healthcare options.
No matter who you are or what your major is, you can find a way to help at the Mission of Mercy.
“Pretty much anyone can volunteer. If you have two hands, two legs and your Hepatitis B vaccine, you’re in!” Holsinger said.
By MEGAN SOUDER
Featured photo: Megan Souder image.