PARKERSBURG - More than 700 volunteers will be answering a "call to action" Friday and Saturday during the Mid-Ohio Valley Mission of Mercy free dental clinic at West Virginia University at Parkersburg.
Volunteers will be providing dental services to an estimated 1,500 adults.
Modeled after a successful 10-year program run by the Virginia Dental Association, the Mid-Ohio Valley M.O.M. is the second of two clinics held in the state this year.
Dr. Richard Newhart, periodontist and steering committee member, said he became interested in bringing the program to the area after he participated in one in Hedgesville in 2008.
"At the clinic I saw a number of people who needed dental help so badly," he said.
Newhart said he worked at the clinic along with local dentists Dr. Jason Bowling, Dr. Michelle Lynch-Bowling, Dr. Danny Chandler and Dr. James Szarko.
"We will be there at 5 a.m. to set up and people who were referred to us and have been prescreened will go in at 5:30 a.m.," he said. "For the others the best advice is to come early and be prepared to be there all day."
Newhart said the 90 dentists, many of them local, will be at the clinic. Also, 65 dental students from West Virginia University, Case Western Reserve University and Virginia Commonwealth University will be lending a hand, gaining clinical experience and learning the value of giving back to their communities.
"We have an oral surgeon coming from Fort Wayne, Ind.," Newhart said. "We will have dentists from Virginia, North Carolina, Athens and Cambridge, Ohio, and Charleston."
Szarko said the Mission of Mercy was started in 2000 by Dr. Terry Dickinson in Texas.
"He had everything he needed but he felt he was missing something in his life," Szarko said. "He took a leave of absence for a year and traveled. After a year he told his local dental association about meeting people who did not have dental insurance. They would make sure their children had dental care but none for themselves."
Szarko said Dickinson organized the first clinic and it was a success. Later he relocated to Virginia and started clinics there with similar success.
Szarko said the first clinic in West Virginia was such a success the doors had to be closed two hours after they started - they had seen 1,195 people.
"Over time he has collected a number of dental stations he rents out for clinics," Szarko said. "Clinics have to be organized a year in advance to get the equipment."
In addition they will have digital X-ray equipment provided by Schick, Kodak and Dexis.
Individuals aged 18 and over in need of dental care will be evaluated on a first-come, first-served basis and given the opportunity to have immediate treatment. Clients will be permitted to choose from cleaning, restorations or fillings or tooth removal. Also, limited services will be available for broken dentures, said Joyce Mather, executive director of United Way Alliance.
Szarko said the denture repair and partials will be done by Stadium Dentures on Dudley Avenue. He said the impressions and the partials will be taken by couriers between the locations.
"In an economy where health care, in general, often takes a back seat to putting food on the table, oral health care is viewed and treated more as a luxury than a priority to most residing in the service area, Calhoun, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Tyler, Wirt and Wood counties in West Virginia and Washington County, Ohio," Mather said.
Szarko said those who come will be taken to stations to register, a medical evaluation by a medical doctor, a dental evaluation and X-ray, anesthesia and then to the dentist.
"Half the floor will be doing filling and half will be extractions," he said. "Cleaning will be done where a dentist is available. After that we will give them post-visit instructions and for extractions we will give them a prescription for medication if needed."
Newhart there will be no income guidelines for a visit. He said he knows people will camp out in the parking lot to be first in line.
Mikki VanWyk, a West Virginia native residing in Washington, D.C., and the primary funder of the Mid-Ohio Valley Mission of Mercy, said there is a need to change the medical system's access to oral health care at the national level.
"As the nation is considering an overhaul in health care, oral health must be included," VanWyk said. "In West Virginia, a movement has started throughout the state to better address oral health needs."
American Dental Association studies have shown a connection between poor oral health and the incidence of chronic health disorders such as cardiovascular disease, Mather said. West Virginia does not have an oral health surveillance system or an oral health plan and ranks first in many indicators of poor oral health. Thirty-four of West Virginia's 55 counties are, in whole or in part, designated as dental health shortage areas.
Although co-sponsored by the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley and the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, the Mid-Ohio Valley Mission of Mercy is a community initiative. Many groups, including dental professionals, local hospitals, restaurants and churches, the Mid-Ohio Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the Volunteer Action Center, have made the dental clinic become a reality, Mather said.