Jon Reagan is a dentist in Neosho, Mo., who has been practicing for almost 20 years. We met as he volunteered at the sixth annual Missouri Mission of Mercy (MOMOM). This 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 the event was held in Joplin.
Nine years ago, Jon began visiting North Belize as a medical missionary, helping people with extractions and oral health care education. He spoke about the similarities he sees between the oral health issues in rural communities in Missouri and in Belize, as well as his passion for volunteering at MOMOM.
Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org.
Jon Reagan: I was sitting at the dinner table, and my kids said, "Hey, I think we should go on a mission trip,” and it just so happened that my cousin was on a mission trip to Belize, with the North Belize medical mission.
So it took a little while, but we got down there, and we mostly did extractions, and then we began to think of ways in which we could help because we were able to assess what that patient really needed.
You wouldn't believe the things that occur down there. It looks the same here, but how they arrive there is different. Like, for example, you might have a filling that needs to be done on your front tooth, that might just be because you didn't brush your teeth here. But there, their main crop is sugarcane. So they're stripping the sugarcane with their front teeth - a lot of the ladies do that.
You sit there and you do anterior – front - teeth all day long, and you just enjoy the hug when they get done - because they smile so much bigger, so much brighter.
My heart really goes to the kids because they may not go to the dentist any other time than when we're there, and so, for a year at a time, we may not see these kids. But this next July, I will be going for my ninth year.
And so I've literally watched these kids grow up, you know, Ishmael and Aecia and all of those boys that are looking for Dr. Jon. They're looking for me to make sure that their teeth are okay, and I don't know how not to do that. You know?
Rebecca Smith: How did you end up here at MOMOM this year?
Jon: Last year was my first year to participate up in Independence. And I'm hooked. I mean, I love doing this. I love helping them--helping the families that need the help, but also the camaraderie, you know, the other dentists coming together, doing a common thing, a common good.
It just provides some synergy that you wouldn't normally feel and normally we're all in our own little boats doing our own dentistry in our own little world, and here we can come together and do nothing but good. Nothing but good. I mean, that feels great.
I can't imagine doing anything else. Am I tired? Yes. Was I tired last night? Oh yeah. Did I sleep good? Yes. But I was totally jazzed to get up at 3:40 in the morning and get up here and do it again.
This piece was produced by Elena Rivera.