Missions of Mercy
The VCU School of Dentistry has formed a partnership with the Virginia Dental Association
Virginia Health Care Foundation
to provide dental care for the uninsured and underserved populations of Virginia.
The Missions of Mercy project was initiated because thousands of Virginians are
unable to obtain dental care despite their urgent needs. One of the largest factors
influencing a person’s ability to access dental services in Virginia is geography
— specifically, where a person lives. In some rural areas, the ratio may be
as low as one dentist to 5,000-plus individuals.
In July 2000, the Virginia Dental Association Foundation
launched the Missions of Mercy (MOM) project to provide dental services in identified
underserved areas of the state where there are not enough dental practitioners to
adequately address the oral health needs of the community. Due to the tremendous
success of the initial project, countless additional MOM projects have been hosted
in areas such as the Eastern Shore, Wise County, Northern Virginia, Petersburg,
Grundy and Martinsville.
The VCU School of Dentistry plays a vital role in not only giving care to this disadvantaged
population but also providing staffing support, transportation and delivery of the
school’s mobile dental van and all volunteers, including dental students,
dental hygiene students, advanced education students, faculty and staff. More than
13,000 patients have been provided with more than $5.7 million worth of free dental
care. Virginia’s MOM projects have broken records for the largest two- and
three-day dental outreach clinics ever conducted in the U.S. and serve as models
for other states.
Missions of Mercy projects have been held in airport hangers, high schools, vacant
factories and fairgrounds, often in conjunction with a health fair that provides
screenings and physical exams for the community. Field clinics resembling a MASH
unit are set up with portable dental chairs, dental units, X-ray machines and sterilization
facilities, with supplies donated by large companies and individuals. Patients start
lining up the night before to ensure that they will receive treatment.
Students apply for the opportunity to be part of the project and are chosen to participate
based on their record of teamwork, their ability to follow instructions and their
clinical skills. Students are able to perform any treatment for which they have
already received training, and faculty members supervise and provide instruction.
The projects, which aim to provide at least one procedure for every person who seeks
treatment, represent an opportunity to demonstrate dentists’ care and concern
for their patients. While the patients are very appreciative, the volunteers often
feel they receive more than they give. The greatest return is the patients’
enthusiasm and new smiles that show dentistry is truly more than a skill; it is
also a gift we, as dentists, can share with others.