On Friday, April 17th and Saturday, April 18th Connecticut Mission of Mercy (MOM) Mobile Dental Clinic convened at New Haven Field House from 5 am to 5pm. MOM’s goal was to provide free oral health services to 2,000 individuals with no, limited or maxed-out dental insurance. The promise of free dental care drew hundreds of people from across the state, many of whom came as early as Thursday evening and camped out in the grass and cars adjacent the New Haven Field House. By 5:30 a.m. the line for services wrapped around the building to the back of James Hillhouse High school. By 8 a.m., 520 people had registered, by 10:30 a.m. over 800 were registered.
Inside New Haven’s Field House, a “M*A*S*H” unit (minus the comedy) seemed to have taken over. Every inch of the floor was securely covered with hospital coverings, there were stations to triage patients, take X-rays, pull teeth, make molds, clean teeth, perform root canals, perform oral surgeries, sterilization areas, educate patients about dental health and separate private room where dental prosthetics (partials, dentures, and teeth) were made.
I was at the Clinic distributing information about UWGNH’s free FamilyWize prescription discount cards during Friday afternoon and had the opportunity to speak to many people who had received services. I learned that most people who had been low-income for a longer period of time were knowledgeable about the resources available through United Way’s Infoline 211. However, recently unemployed and the new working poor weren’t aware of the statewide resource referral system. Among those who were familiar with Infoline 211, fewer were aware of the extent of services available via a toll free call. A large number of individuals I spoke with were pleasantly surprised to learned Infoline 211 services were not income based, available 24/7 and included resources for eldercare, foreclosure prevention, counseling and basic needs.
Why did so many people need the free dental services provided by MOM’s two day clinic? According to Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General (May 2000), “Over 108 million children and adults lack dental insurance, which is over 2.5 times the number who lack medical insurance”. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Oral Health, indicates “Over 40 percent of poor adults (20 years and older) have at least one untreated decayed tooth compared to 16 percent of non-poor adults”. In addition, Connecticut is facing a health insurance crisis and oral health is among the most neglected of health services among low-income populations. In Connecticut about 1 million people lack access to dental care.
People attending the clinic included individuals who are insured through the state’s adult HUSKY plan who had not been able to find a provider, or couldn’t get an appointment for four to six more months; individuals who earn just enough that they are not eligible for the state’s adult HUSKY Plan but don’t have the money to buy their own dental insurance; and those who had reached their coverage limit and couldn’t afford dental care out of pocket.
The state’s proposed changes to dental insurance plans for low-income individuals will make this situation even worse. Regardless of the many issues feeding into the need for a free mobile dental clinic, an enormous thank you to the dentist, hygienists, radiologists, medical assistants, dental staff, volunteers and sponsoring organizations from across Connecticut who donated their time, talent and treasure to meet the growing need of Connecticut’s constituents for free and timely dental services is warranted. What a way to “LIVE UNITED”!