|MINNEAPOLIS — What makes you smile? Maybe it’s a fond memory or a funny joke, and for some people it’s a kind gesture from a stranger or a new friend.
Minnesota Mobile Dental Clinics is bringing smiles to people in need of free or reduced dental care in the Twin Cities.
The 501(c)(3) nonprofit is a charity of Medical Teams International, a Christian global health organization that provides aid to impoverished and disaster-stricken communities. Operating in Minnesota since May of 2011, the organization is changing lives one tooth at a time.
“When you hear ‘I can smile again’ and you see that happen or ‘I can eat again with no pain,’” said Director of Minnesota Mobile Dental Clinics John Braddock, “we want the community to see this is the focus.”
The Mobile Dental Clinic provides basic comprehensive dentistry—such as fillings, extractions, cleaning and tooth restructuring—that improves the well-being of its patients.
“There is a great need for dental care—for all populations actually,” said Dr. Elizabeth Hasselman, who is a volunteer dentist. “We treat the population who can’t afford to go to a dentist or a regular office.”
For 19-year-old uninsured Anita, her visit to the Mobile Dental Clinic was transformative.
She had never been to a dentist and was suffering with infected wisdom teeth. Though she was nervous, she received complimentary care that treated her problem.
“It’s not a scary environment,” said Quincy Tiffany, volunteer dental hygienist. “It’s very comfortable. Even though it’s in a van, it feels like you’re in an office.”
Poor dental care can have significant repercussions on physical health. It can either increase the risk for certain diseases such as cardiovascular disease, or it can heighten the effects of preexisting conditions like diabetes.
“I fell in love with the prospect of bringing volunteers to service at something that they are good at and is needed,” added Braddock. “It’s one thing to ask a dentist to lick stamps for you, and it’s a whole other thing to do something they are gifted at.”
As much as the service ministry does for its patients’ physical needs, it provides much bigger support.
“It’s an avenue to meet their needs for their whole life … a lot of people that we reach, they have never seen a dentist before or since they’ve been a child,” explained Denise Malone, who is the children’s pastor of Minneapolis Life Center, one of 20 church sites that host the mobile dental van at least four times a year.
Strategically offering mobile dental care at church sites enables churches to connect with their local communities. It gives both patients and church leaders an opportunity to forge relationships that offer spiritual guidance.
“I remember one of the guys that came; he was a homeless guy who had been coming to the church,” said Malone. “And he came out just smiling. He went in not wanting to show his teeth and came out with this huge smile, ‘I can’t believe the dentist prayed for me.’”
Malone added: “I’ve seen so many people come out of there with these huge smiles on. It makes a world of a difference in their confidence.”
Braddock says the ministry is just as much for the benefit of the patient as it is for the professional.
“To see somebody to begin to be changed … and to see the light go on in their eyes and to see some of them come to Christ through service, that’s absolutely beautiful,” he said.
Dr. Lewis Pierce serves as a volunteer dentist with the ministry. He spends most of his time in Africa where he sets up clinics. He is deeply humbled by the experiences he has helping others globally.
“They really all impact me, more than I impact them,” he said.
In order to grow the impact of the organization, a growth in funding and volunteerism is necessary.
“What we are really trying to do now is really to get ourselves stable,” said Braddock.
Each mobile dental clinic costs $900 to implement. Typically each clinic treats between 10 and 15 people in a day between two dentists who donate their services.
Though the organization does ask for a $10 donation per patient, no one is turned away if they can’t afford it.
Each patient typically receives approximately $450 in treatment. The service provided is cost efficient: $1 provides for $6 of dental care.
There are ways churches and individuals can support the efforts of the ministry. For $65 a person can sponsor the dental care of one person, or for $650 a church can help treat 10 people.
The ministry would like to hold three to four clinics a week and treat 125 patients per month on average.
With one mobile dental clinic on-hand, the organization is planning to obtain three additional equipped vans that will serve the Twin Cities and outlying parts of the state.
It costs $360,000 to build a mobile clinic dental van, and the organization is hoping it will receive the funding it needs to fulfill its goals of helping people with Christ’s love.
As a leader of the mission, Braddock believes God is the reason the ministry will be life-changing as it moves forward.
“God equips all of us to be able to navigate and to be able to give back,” he said.
ACTIONPOINT: For more information about the Minnesota Mobile Dental Clinics and how you can get involved, email email@example.com or visit www.medicalteams.org.