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Health

Free Dental Clinic Returning To Wichita

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The Kansas Mission of Mercy will offer its 20th free dental clinic in Wichita on July 23 and 24.

The Kansas Mission of Mercy is back in Wichita this year for its 20th free dental clinic.

The event is July 23 and 24 at the Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center.

Niki Sadler is the executive director of the Kansas Dental Charitable Foundation, one of the event’s organizers. She said Kansas Mission of Mercy 2021 might take on an extra need this year.

“With the pandemic, we realize that there's a lot of people that lost jobs,” Sadler said, “which means they very well may have lost their dental coverage and lost the means to be able to pay for dental care.”

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And dental coverage is already tricky enough. It’s expensive and not often included in universal health coverage. The World Health Organization reported in March 2020 that for most high-income countries, like the United States, 20% of out-of-pocket health expenses are for dental treatments.

So Sadler said the clinic helps people who have low income, are underinsured or have no insurance. It will provide pediatric care, oral surgery and restorative treatments on a first-come, first-served basis.

Whether it’s cavities or abscesses in the gums, Sadler said the goal is to relieve the pain so that people can sleep better at night and focus during the day, without pain sapping their energy and attention.

Constantly taking pain medications can be a temporary fix, but Sadler said too many medications can have a negative impact on the body.

And sometimes, the pain isn’t just physical.

Sadler remembered a sixth-grade girl who fell and broke her two front teeth. Her parents didn’t have money to fix it, so she was teased at school. She didn’t want to smile, let alone talk.

But the dentists at the Kansas Mission of Mercy restored the two teeth.

“And that girl had the biggest smile walking out of KMOM,” Sadler said. “She was no longer scared to go into junior high school, which can be such an intimidating time for our kids.

“The difference was just … life-changing for that little girl.”

Kansas Mission of Mercy typically happens in January or February, so it was still held last year before the pandemic became widespread. This year, though, it was rescheduled to July to allow more time for vaccinations and fewer COVID-19 cases.

There are usually 100 dental chairs, but this year there will be 45, spread 10 feet apart. Patients will be brought inside in small groups so that most of the waiting is done outside.

Masks are required, and the organizers have asked people to stay home if they feel sick. Sadler said there will be no hygiene care in order to reduce the aerosols released from the cleaning tools.

“We'll have a fewer number of volunteers because of the fewer number of chairs, and we will treat fewer patients,” Sadler said. “But as I said with the little girl, one patient makes all the difference.”

Sadler said the clinic still needs community volunteers, dentists, dental assistants and hygienists to help at the event. More information is available at ksdentalfoundation.org.