Chesterfield dentists on a mission
Galstan and 11 other county dentists traveled to Greensville High School in Emporia on Nov. 5 to participate in the foundation’s latest Missions of Mercy project. Over two days, 427 patients received free dental care, valued at $302,342, according to the organization.
About 500 volunteers, including dentists, hygienists, dental assistants and others, contributed to the effort.
“We realize there is an access to dental care issue in this country,” Galstan said. “The way the healthcare system in this country is at this point, it is not functioning at its best, and we are doing our best to work toward solutions.”
MOM was founded almost 12 years ago. Since then, free clinics have been held throughout the state, targeting communities where there’s a lack of access to care due to a limited number of dentists or little money to visit one.
“The economy has been really hard on everybody,” Galstan said. “Some of the people we saw are either not working or they are working at low-paying jobs that don’t provide dental insurance.”
The Emporia project was Galstan’s eighth MOM event. He’s volunteered at past clinics in Gloucester County, Petersburg and Emporia.
Dr. Jim Glaser with Iron Bridge Family and Cosmetic Dentistry also volunteered in Emporia earlier this month. His last patient was one of his most memorable.
“Most of his teeth were broken down below the gum line,” Glaser said. “There were 12 or 13 teeth that had to be removed. I ended up taking out all of his teeth and smoothing out his gums, [so he could get dentures].”
Emporia is a rural community with a large population of low-income and working-poor families.
“There are a huge number of people who in areas like Emporia, Greensville County and Brunswick County, who are very hardworking, but they work in jobs where they earn minimum wage and are not eligible for government programs,” explained Jamie Neal, who has organized three MOM projects in Emporia since 2008. “A lot of them are very hard-working, well-meaning people who, by the end of the day after they have fed, clothed and housed their families, there is no money left over for dental care. They just cannot stretch those dollars to afford dental care.”
A 2009 survey by the Centers for Disease Control revealed only 62 percent of U.S. adults ages 18-64 had visited a dentist within the past year. In contrast, 78 percent of children had visited a dentist.
Medicaid includes a dental benefit for children, but those services end at age 18.
“By far, we see more adults [at MOM projects] because the children often have Medicaid, so they have the ability to go to a provider,” Galstan explained.
Extractions are the most common procedure at MOM events, due to the lack of preventive care. Smoking and drinking carbonated sodas can contribute to the problem, Dr. Glaser said.
This year, Neal said there were more patients who asked to have their teeth cleaned.
“As you have more than one project, the patients are becoming more educated,” Neal said. “When these patients come back in saying they want their teeth cleaned, I think that is a good thing. That means we’re doing more than just meeting their chronic need.”
Patients usually begin lining up to receive services hours before the clinics officially open. During last March’s MOM project in Gloucester County, for example, there were 710 people standing in line at one point.
“We ask no questions,” Neal said. “There is nothing that asks what is your income, what is your job. There are no qualifications. People feel comfortable coming because they don’t have to justify why they are coming to a MOM project.”
Upcoming MOM projects are planned in Roanoke, Northern Virginia, and Gloucester and Wise counties. There will be a clinic at Virginia State University next July.
“The heroes are the ones who organize it,” said Glaser. “I’m just a foot soldier. I’m really lucky that I get to do what I do, so it’s a matter of being able to give back. It makes me appreciate what God’s given me.”