Debbie and David Vance have both been volunteering at the annual MOMOM, or Missouri Mission of Mercy, for years. MOMOM is a once a year, two-day dental clinic providing free care for anyone who’s willing to wait in line. It’s in a different place every year, and this year’s 6th annual event was held in Joplin, Missouri.
They spoke about their experiences volunteering at the events and about the importance of educating their patients about oral health care’s effect on overall health.
Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org.
David Vance: I was just talking to somebody earlier, though, and you know, we were talking about how we don't like going to the dentist. And that's the reason we do go to the dentist, so that we don't have to see them. (Laughs)
Debbie Vance: We do have a lot of those patients that have the anxiety, only because they experienced something awful when they were younger.
But I started this in '84, and I told patients, you know what, it's not the way it used to be. It's a lot easier now. Technology has advanced. Medication. The way we do things, the techniques have changed.
I will admit when I started in '84 some of those procedures were a little wild, and I wasn't having them done. But I told my patients, you know what if you trust me, I'll tell you everything that's gonna happen, and we get through it.
David: Would you say working with MOMOM has changed you as a person?
Debbie: I would say that it would. It was a little overwhelming on my first event.
I did not imagine when I saw the line of people go all the way around the facility. I thought, "Oh my gosh." But then I was glad that we were able to help a lot of folks.
I remember a few people that came through that one. This lady was crying, because for the first time in 20 years she got front teeth. She was ecstatic. She was able to smile. She was taking pictures. Her kids freaked out when they saw her because she was smiling. She was happy. And you should have seen that big group hug. (Laughs) It was amazing.
David: Are there any other resources that you wish existed for the patients?
Debbie: I wish it was a simpler way, or a facility get it done and at least get comfortable, or get something to get them by until they can actually get into their regular dental office.
David: So instead of going to a medical urgent care, emergency care, they go to a dental emergency care.
Debbie: Right, because they can't do much for you, other than give you a prescription. That's it.
David: And if it's inflamed, they're hoping that antibiotic will bring it down so they can go to the dentist and get it. Because if it's inflamed, go ahead and tell them more about that…
Debbie: Well, if it's inflamed, anesthetic usually does not work. So, you have to get that infection out and under control before we can actually treat it, so…
David: Because if someone comes in they expect to be pulled right in, and you have to turn them away and say we can't do it—
Debbie: And if their face is out to this, it doesn't work, so…
David: So, I'm sure that's frustrating for some of the patients, too, when they want something done right now, and then they're told they have to wait.
Debbie: Now, when I was in oral surgery, we've had some cases where we actually had to take them in, admit them and drain, because it was so bad that it was just out of control and that can go into your bloodstream, your lungs and everything.
And then it's the worst situation because now you're dealing with the medical situation and a dental situation. So, you're inpatient for two, three days until that again drains out, and you get your system cleaned out. That's rough. And we've--there's been stories about several dental patients that have passed for that reason.
David: I guess whenever you have the patients, you're kind of explaining to them how much the dental affects their overall health, too.
Debbie: Exactly. People don't think about that, that it can start in your mouth, and it goes through your bloodstream, and it affects a lot of different organs in a lot of areas.
When you go through the whole process, and show them that that's where it started, like “oh, okay,” you know, you would think that you would be educated nowadays, but truly, we're not. So that's why we're here, that's why we do this on a daily basis, to hopefully try to get that word out.
This piece was produced by Elena Rivera.