A new study from researchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Health published in BMC Public Health explores the relationship between chronic diseases and the types of dental services performed at a Mission of Mercy (MOM) emergency dental clinic. The findings strongly suggest that organizers of MOM emergency dental clinics include general health services to serve those with chronic conditions.
MOMs are community-based emergency dental programs. Staffed voluntarily and occurring throughout the country, they attract large numbers of individuals seeking low-cost dental care.
In 2014, the University of Maryland Center for Health Equity in collaboration with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and the Maryland State Dental Association organized a two-and-a-half-day MOM event. The event included a complementary Health Equity Festival that provided primary care, health education and care coordination services.
The study analyzed oral health data from the joint event and found that although individuals primarily attended the event to receive dental care, a third of the participants had one or more chronic conditions and lifestyle risk behaviors. Those with two or more chronic conditions and risks were more likely to have oral surgery than those with one condition/risk.
The researchers found that many MOM participants were “In need of coordinated care for their primary and dental care needs.” These individuals were “Living with multiple risk factors or chronic conditions and in dire need of both general and oral health services.” The addition of the primary care and care coordination services provided by the Health Equity Festival played an important role in addressing needs of the underserved populations served by the MOM event.
The study reiterates the long established link between oral health and general health highlighting the MOM program’s opportunities to provide basic preventative services. The researchers emphasize the importance of using public health events such as MOMs to create linkages with other services to support follow-up and care coordination.
The researchers underline the value of the Mission of Mercy dental clinics in providing better care “We must design them into eliminate oral health disparities and achieve health equity,” they urge.
Dr. Devlon N. Jackson, a study coordinator at the Maryland Center for Health Equity, led the study.
A second University of Maryland Center for Health Equity led Mission of Mercy event was held in 2017 and a third is planned for September 2019.
The paper, “Mission of Mercy Emergency Dental Clinics: An Opportunity to Promote General and Oral Health,” was written by Devlon N. Jackson, Susan Passmore, Craig S. Fryer, Jie Chen, Dushanka V. Kleinman, Alice M. Horowitz, James Butler,III, Mary A. Garza, Sandra C. Quinn and Stephen B. Thomas and published in BMC Public Health.