FARMINGTON — The importance of proper dental care extends far beyond a bright smile, and some of the more serious repercussions of poor dental health include heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, and even dementia.
Despite this, there are at least 1,500 adults and children in San Juan County who are in need of proper dental care. Next September 13th and 14th, these underserved individuals will have a chance to receive free treatment, thanks to the New Mexico Mission of Mercy, a program of the New Mexico Dental Foundation. In preparation for this massive two-day clinic, which will be held at McGee Park, the event's organizers are calling for volunteer help.
There have been two other Mission of Mercy dental clinics held in New Mexico, the first in Albuquerque in 2010 and another in Las Cruces in 2012.
"The need for dental care here (in San Juan County) is mirrored by what we saw in Las Cruces and Albuquerque," said the event's coordinator and co-chair, retired oral surgeon John McNeill. At those events, 3,722 patients received free dental care, equating to more than $2 million dollars of services provided.
McNeill said the reasons people are not receiving needed dental care and treatment range from not having sufficient funds to pay for care to not having transportation to get to a dentist.
"Mission of Mercy isn't just for people who are poor, though. It's for anyone who can't afford dental care or who may not have had access to care," he said, adding that patients from across state lines will be welcome at the clinic, as will those who do not possess a valid form of identification.
In addition to the dental professionals and assistants who will be providing their services free-of-charge, McNeill said about one thousand "lay" volunteers will be needed during a four-day time frame prior to, during, and after the event.
"We'll need a whole cast of volunteers to help with things like hospitality, food service, data entry, translation, helping check in volunteers, registering and escorting patients, and even providing entertainment for waiting patients," he said.
McNeill said this is a good volunteer opportunity not only for individuals, but also for businesses and civic, church and community groups that would like to sign up as a team. Volunteers need to be 18 or older, but no experience is necessary.
Farmington dentist Julius Manz, who also serves as director of the San Juan College Dental Hygiene Program, is heading up the dental treatment portion of the clinic, along with fellow dentists Chuck Schumacher and Jennifer Thompson.
"The treatment provided will be pretty comprehensive, and we will offer almost everything," in the way of dental care, Manz said, including cleanings, fillings, root canals, tooth extraction, and temporary tooth replacement. There will also be a section devoted to children's dentistry.
"It's awe-inspiring when you know that you've helped someone who was in pain and couldn't afford to see a dentist, or someone who lacked confidence to look for a job because their teeth were in such bad shape," said Manz.
Those wishing to volunteer for the Mission of Mercy clinic can register now by visiting www.nmdentalfoundation.org and clicking on the "NM MOM" logo. Those who do not have access to a computer can visit the Farmington Public Library at 2101 Farmington Ave., where library staff members are standing by to assist with volunteer registration.