More than 100 dentists and 1,000 volunteers will gather Friday and Saturday in the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau to provide free dental care to underserved patients in the Southeast Missouri area.
The event is Missouri Mission of Mercy and it is hosted by the Missouri Dental Association and the Missouri Dental Association Foundation. This is only the second time the event has been held but expectations are pretty high, said Jan Ruopp, local co-chairwoman of Missouri Mission of Mercy.
"Our first one was in Springfield, Mo., in 2011 and we saw about 1,846 people and provided about $1 million in dental care services," she said. "We had a few people working that event that were from the Southeast Missouri district that said we should do one there because there was a great need."
High unemployment rates and a great number of patients who are underserved because of lack of insurance or available local dental facilities made Cape Girardeau a prime location for Mission of Mercy. It also had one of the only local facilities large enough to hold 100 dental chairs, Ruopp said.
"The few stipulations about where to hold this event is finding a space large enough to host it," she said. "We need 26,000 square feet, minimum, and not many facilities can accommodate that."
The event also requires the help of many volunteers, according to Ruopp. Although some are certified dental assistants, she said most volunteers would be patient escorts, who would be in charge of assisting patients from the front of the building to examining chairs as they become available.
Ruopp said they expect to serve about 2,000 people throughout the two-day event, which puts their need for patient escort volunteers around the 1,000 mark.
"This event really relies on volunteers," she said. "Without local support we would never be able to make this happen."
Paul Roberts, director of advocacy and outreach of the Missouri Dental Association, said the event is greatly appreciated by many.
"Many people can't afford dental care or don't have access to it," he said. "In this setting, we can't really do any sophisticated dentistry, but we can help with more preventive measures to limit further decay."
The services that will be provided at Mission of Mercy are extractions, cleaning and fillings. Roberts said they also will provide literature to educate attendees on the best ways to avoid oral diseases.
Roberts and Ruopp said they were proud of the field of dentistry and of those willing to participate in such a wide-scale charitable event, but Ruopp noted that charity is not a replacement for actual health care.
"No matter how much free care you give, charity care is not a health-care system," she said. "Another part of what we do is raise awareness that this [lack of dental care] is a big problem and needs to be addressed by our state."
Doors will open at 5 a.m. and services will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis.
1333 N. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.