SALISBURY — According to organizers, the Eastern Shore Mission of Mercy (ESMOM) free dental clinic in March will be a “massive undertaking” that will attempt to provide dental health services to approximately 1,500 visitors over two days.
On March 15 and 16, the Wicomico County Youth and Civic Center will be revamped into a 100-station adult dental clinic.
“It’s a major event,” said ESMOM Community Chairperson Richard Van Gelder. “It’s going to encompass the whole civic center. We’re basically transforming the civic center into a MASH-style dental hospital.”
The clinic will offer a variety of dental services including fillings, cleanings, oral surgery and root canals. The event isn’t supposed to cover every minor dental problem, said Van Gelder, but seeks to address moderate and major problems before they degenerate.
“It’s not intended to take care of every dental need but it is to take care of trauma-severe level problems that people have, get them stabilized and get them out of risk for more serious infection problems,” Van Gelder said.
Whatever the level of dental trouble, individuals will be welcomed to the clinic, though Van Gelder stressed that all visitors must be at least 18 years old and that no minors will be permitted. He pointed out that Maryland already makes provisions to provide free dental care to all minors under state law and that the ESMOM event is a unique opportunity to reach an older crowd that may have neglected proper care for years.
“This is open to any adult over 18 years of age from anywhere,” he said. “There’s no insurance requirement, there’s no income requirement, there’s no qualification of any type. If you’re 18, you can come and stand in line to receive services.”
Because there are no requirements, Van Gelder expects a strong turnout for the two-day event. Doors will open both days at 6 a.m. and the policy will be “first-come, first-served.” ESMOM anticipates between 1,200 and 1,500 patients, though Van Gelder admitted that it will be difficult to help every single person in only two days.
“We’ll take care of as many people as we can and we’ll do as much as we can,” he said.
There is a definite need for free, available dental health care, according to Van Gelder. Because of the costs of insurance and the fact that problems tend to accumulate over long periods of time, he explained that many people will put off dental care until minor issues have run out of control.
“It causes additional pain, additional infection problems,” said Van Gelder. “It can cause heart and brain connection problems. So the issue of dental care is really huge. People tend to ignore it and let it go until it becomes severe.”
Addressing those issues not just in Maryland but nationwide has been Mission of Mercy’s (MOM) goal since 2000, when it began in Virginia. Since then, free clinics have been hosted in 17 different states. And while Maryland has been the site before, this is the first time that MOM will be coming to Delmarva.
Van Gelder expects some 250 dentists and hygienists to volunteer to operate the clinic, with another roughly 400 community volunteers also sought to help organize the event and direct patients. So far, 57 dentists and hygienists, as well as 205 community volunteers, have signed-up. There is also a need for donations with $63,000 of the eventual $125,000 goal already raised. A fundraiser at Galaxy 66 on Feb. 24 is planned to contribute to the effort.
Though unlikely to become an annual event, Van Gelder said that ESMOM will try to return to Delmarva within two years, though likely at a new location in the area.
For more information on the spring dental clinic or to register as a volunteer, visit www.eastershoremissionofmercy.org.