MANKATO — Come August the entire arena floor of Verizon Wireless Center will become a sea of dentistry.
“We’ll be using every square inch, plus some hallways,” Minnesota Dental Association project coordinator Shelly Conlin said of a massive free dental clinic that will be the first of its kind in Minnesota.
The Mission of Mercy clinic will provide up to 2,000 patients with an estimated $1 million worth of dental care over two days — Aug. 17-18.
Mankato dentist Tom Smyth, who helped serve patients at a Mission of Mercy clinic in Iowa last year, said the challenges of such an undertaking are imposing.
The event will utilize about 1,000 volunteers, including up to 200 volunteer dentists and support staff treating patients in 125 dental chairs.
Smyth said recruitment of volunteers will soon begin in earnest.
“We have a lay volunteer manager and we’ll be doing anything from word of mouth to using recruiting websites. Lately we’ve also been encouraging dentists to speak to their patients” about lending assistance at the event.
The Mission of Mercy program, which was started in 2000 by dentists in the state of Virginia, serves children and adults in need, regardless of their ability to pay.
The program is active in 18 states and the mobility logistics of putting on the free clinics take on the trappings of a touring rock production.
America’s Dentists Care Foundation supplies the semi trucks that haul the dentists’ chairs and other equipment from state to state, and dentists who are passionate about the program routinely arrive from other states to help out.
“They become like old Deadheads, if you will,” Smyth said, a reference to zealous Grateful Dead fans who followed the band from concert to concert.
Patients at the Mankato clinic essentially will be treated on a first-come basis, and if the crowd is large, people can expect waits.
Smyth said volunteers are needed for that contingency as well.
“You’ve got to keep people occupied three to five hours sometimes.”
He said entertainment diversions will be on hand, ranging from TVs to, say, roaming jugglers. There will be no child care services at the clinic.
Conlin said patient treatments will range from teeth cleanings to root canals, and those with a painful tooth won’t get short-shrift service.
“If we can save the tooth, we do. We don’t just pull.”
Volunteer escorts will stay with each patient throughout their treatment process on the arena floor. Other volunteers will assist with patient registrations, greeting patients, translation and other tasks.
Conlin said Mankato was chosen as the state clinic site because Verizon is an appropriate venue, there is strong community support and there is a local need for free dental care, but not so much of a need that people would get turned away.
For more information on the Mission of Mercy clinic, or to volunteer, go to www.mndental.org/mnmom.