Though the doors to the 2012 Kansas Mission of Mercy (KMOM) event were set to open at 5:30 a.m., the lines of potential patients began forming hours earlier. Some people came for simple dental cleanings or fillings. Many came to have extractions or other types of oral surgery.
In all, the two-day February event, held in Kansas City, Kan., allowed more than 2,100 patients to receive treatment, totaling more than $1.5 million in free dental care provided.
"Each year we see the ongoing need throughout Kansas for dental services," said Greg Hill, executive director of the Kansas Dental Charitable Foundation.
"During each of our 11 KMOM projects during the past decade, we have reached our clinic capacity early in the morning and our volunteers spend two complete days attending to those needs."
According to Hill, the 2012 event was the largest yet in Kansas, in terms of both patients served and amount of care provided. Since the program's inception in Kansas, more than 21,000 patients have been served, with a total value of care provided exceeding $11 million.
For those seeking care, the KMOM event often provides the only opportunity they will have for dental services. The onsite clinic is divided into areas serving basic hygiene needs, general dentistry and oral surgery.
"Most of the time, if people are seeking care through KMOM, it is as a last resort or because they have nowhere else to turn," Hill said. "We have to be mindful of this and set up our clinic in a way to efficiently provide the types of services most often needed by patients. This year, as with most, that meant cleanings, fillings and extractions."
Hundreds of volunteers come together to make the event happen each year, including dentists and hygienists from every corner of Kansas. During the program's history, more than 600 Kansas dentists have participated in at least one event, and some dentists have participated in all 11 events.
A number of individuals, organizations, foundations and companies come together to provide financial backing for KMOM. For the 2012 event, the Kansas Health Foundation was among the supporting partners, providing a $25,000 grant to help provide these essential dental services to Kansans.
"Recent studies have continued to show the link between poor oral health and many diseases and ailments that significantly impact overall health," said Steve Coen, president and CEO of the Kansas Health Foundation. "KMOM and its volunteers provide patients with treatments and services that positively impact their quality of life and relieve the daily pain that far too many Kansans experience."
This need for services creates two days of nonstop activity at the actual event, which follows months of planning, organizing and fundraising. According to Hill, though, seeing fellow Kansans get the treatment they need is a reward that always leaves his organization, the participating dental professionals and the supporting partners motivated to make an even bigger impact the following year.
"It never ceases to amaze me the amount of genuine appreciation and thanks our patients have for the KMOM projects," Hill said. "You may see someone who has been in pain for an extended period of time come in and have 15 or 20 teeth extracted. But once they get up from that chair they're smiling and they come by to give you a big hug. That's how we know we're making an impact, and that's how we know we must continue to meet these needs."
The next KMOM event will be held in Wichita, and is tentatively set for the first weekend of March 2013. To find out more information about KMOM or how individuals or organizations can support these efforts, please visit www.ksdentalfoundation.org.