MANKATO — Starting Friday, the masses will come.
Mission of Mercy, a first of its kind event in Minnesota, expects to provide dental care to more than 2,000 people at the Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato. The effort will pool the talents of 1,213 volunteers — dentists and non-dentists — for two days of free dental care to people who can’t afford it.
People like Margene Sistrunk.
She had a job with a local company, but when arthritis in her foot prevented her from doing that job, she was let go. As went the job, so went the insurance. She hasn’t been to a dentist in two years.
“It’s important. I know I need a teeth cleaning,” she said. “I’m grateful they have the program. I just hope it doesn’t hurt too much.”
The Minnesota Dental Association’s Shelly Conlin, project coordinator for Mission of Mercy, said they’ve been planning the event in Mankato for about two years. When they put the word out around the state that the event was coming, southern Minnesota responded loudly.
“We choose (Mankato) based upon local dental community support,” Conlin said. “Dentists down in that region were gung-ho to do this. They really wanted to be the first.”
Many other states have done Mission of Mercy programs. Most recently, Conlin and others from the MDA traveled to Madison, Wis., where a Mission of Mercy event treated 3,600 patients to about $2.5
million worth of free dental care.
To offset costs, the MDA has solicited donations. But its biggest donor was the Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation, which donated $150,000 to fund the program for the first two years.
Conlin said the city of Mankato, like local dental professionals, was eager to have the program here.
“We were welcomed with open arms, that’s for sure,” Conlin said.
For anyone considering coming, be warned. There will be lines, and the lines may be long. In some states, Conlin said, people start lining up the night before. Mission of Mercy works on a strict first-come, first-served basis.
Most routine dental work is available, while some of the more involved procedures are not. They will not do crowns, or extractions of wisdom teeth.
For Kaylen Acres, she’s just hoping to finally get the family in to see a dentist. Her fiancé hasn’t had dental coverage for years. And her son, who is 4, has never seen a dentist.
She said she’s been on U Care and state medical assistance. She suffers from Crohn’s disease, which she says has taken a toll on her teeth.
“This program is pretty important,” Acres said. “Health-wise, it’s just a part of overall good health.”