The setting was a building being converted from industrial use to startups in a neighborhood near the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB). On its seventh floor, a dental clinic took shape, beckoning adults whose circumstances in life had led them to forgo dental care for months, or in some cases, for years or even decades.
There the action centered on 200 students of the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD), who cared for more than 600 people at the 2019 Baltimore Mission of Mercy, and on patients who were eager for treatment.
One was Calvin Daniel, a retired bus driver who confided he had neglected his oral health for years. But no more. “Something had to be done,” he said. An evaluation indicated four teeth were unhealthy.
Fourth-year dental student Melissa Lee, assisted by Miah Ramsey, performed the extractions. Said Daniel, “They really made me comfortable. I didn’t feel any pain at all, didn’t have any regrets at all.”
Organized by UMSOD and the United Way of Central Maryland (UWCM), the event took place on Feb. 28 and March 1. Students were joined by supervising faculty members, dozens of UMSOD staff members, and volunteers from UMB and supporting organizations.
“I am extremely proud of what the University of Maryland School of Dentistry’s faculty, staff, and student volunteers accomplished in two days. At the Mission of Mercy, we were able to offer needed dental care to more than 600 of our fellow community residents,” said Dr. Mark A. Reynolds, dean of UMSOD. “Many of these individuals have limited resources, and our overall aim was to provide to them quality oral health care, which is an integral part of overall health and the quality of life.”
Patients were 18 and older and in need of obtaining extractions, restorations (fillings), and cleanings. Overall, patients received dental care valued at $612,340 in a total of 1,743 procedures, according to Mission of Mercy organizer Scott Gottbreht, associate vice president for homeless services, impact strategies at UWCM.
“The need for oral health care is just so great, we need to have these types of activities,” said Dr. Louis G. DePaola, associate dean of clinical affairs at UMSOD, adding that many patients “would have no access to dental care” otherwise.
About 60 percent of the 100 chairs at the Mission of Mercy were dedicated to oral surgery and the extraction of teeth because that is the greatest need, DePaola said. For those patients, extraction of diseased teeth will improve the level of their oral health and removes potential sources of infection. For many, the procedure also eliminate the pain associated with dental decay.
James Gee, a retired employee of the Baltimore City Schools system, said one tooth in particular had been hurting. Afterward, he expressed gratitude and said the students had calmed his nerves. “They made me feel like I was getting a haircut or something like that,” he said, instead of the four extractions he had required.
“Some of these patients are getting all their teeth extracted,” observed Ramsay Koury, DMD, clinical assistant professor and the Mission of Mercy organizer at UMSOD. Others are elated when their badly deteriorated front teeth are restored, he said. “A lot of these patients will shed tears and hug them and tell them how grateful they are. That sense of fulfillment and accomplishment is unparalleled.”
Student David Anguiano, a member of the DDS Class of 2019, said: “One of reasons I pursued dentistry was to help others. In the present time, this Mission of Mercy is one of things I can do to start helping people.”
Patients who needed dental hygiene services were seen on Friday.
Everyone who registered was given a medical screening and offered testing for HIV and the hepatitis C virus. The latter was offered by the JACQUES Initiative of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The former was conducted by physicians and nurse practitioners from Saint Agnes Healthcare, who were assisted by Bachelor of Science in Nursing students from the University of Maryland School of Nursing.
“One notable aspect of the event is that it aligns perfectly with our Medical Mission at Home strategic imperative and gives volunteers from providers and nonprofits in the area a chance to collaborate and interact with each other while serving our community,” said Chris A. Chekouras, MBA, president and chief operating officer of Saint Agnes, Ascension.
In addition to Saint Agnes, Ascension, supporting partners included the Maryland State Dental Association Foundation and CareFirst, BlueCross, BlueShield.