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“Mission of Mercy” Opens Wide – Free Dental Care in Eastern Panhandle

June 27, 2008

Hedgesville, WV – People started lining up in the middle of the night, hoping to get a free appointment to see a dentist today and Saturday in Hedgesville. Mission of Mercy is holding West Virginia's first-ever free dental clinic for adults. They hope to give 1,000 people a reason to smile.

Dr. Lisa Dunn, with the Health Sciences Center of West Virginia University, is one of the volunteer health professionals. She says they're targeting those who don't have dental insurance, the under-insured and those who have difficulty finding a dentist who accepts new patients.

"Our big problem right now in the Eastern Panhandle is that we don't have enough dentists. West Virginia Medicaid does not pay for adult dental services."

Seeing a dentist shouldn't be a luxury, according to Dunn. Instead, it should be part of basic health care, because if serious infections are neglected, people can die.

She says everyone at the clinic gets one treatment, even though most need more comprehensive care.

"Hopefully, we'll get them out of pain, out of the immediate crisis, and that will buy them some time to get back on track."

Dunn would like to see the state set up incentive programs to lure more dentists to the area with offers to help pay off school loans. She also wants Medicaid expanded to cover adults.

The dental clinic opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. today and Saturday at Hedgesville High School, 109 North Ridge Road, Hedgesville. The parking lot opens at midnight both days, and appointments will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Deborah Smith/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - WV