A free dental clinic and health equity festival at the University of Maryland provided an estimated $1.5 million worth of dental care to more than 1,200 people from September 5-6. Organized by the University of Maryland School of Public Health’s Center for Health Equity in partnership with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, the Mid-Maryland Mission of Mercy and Health Equity Festival raised awareness about the national dental crisis which leaves many adults without access to affordable, routine dental care to prevent the need for emergency services.
[Photo: Dr. Wallace Loh (UMD President), Dr. Stephen B. Thomas (director, Maryland Center for Health Equity), and Cardinal Donald Wuerl ( Archbishop of Washington) visit with patients at the Mid-Maryland Mission of Mercy and Health Equity Festival]
“The demand for access to dental care among underserved, uninsured, and underinsured adults is great,” said Dr. Stephen B. Thomas, director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity and one of the event’s lead organizers. “We can’t wait for people to die before we can act – we must focus on preventing disease. Our goal was to advance the state of Maryland’s efforts to improve access to preventive dental services for all Marylanders.”
The tragic 2007 death of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old boy from Prince George’s County, Maryland, from an untreated dental infection spurred improvements in Maryland’s oral health policies for children. Under the Affordable Care Act, pregnant women and children are guaranteed dental coverage in Maryland. Yet, low-income adults remain vulnerable and largely without coverage for dental care. Poor oral health can have widespread negative effects on a person’s life, from chronic pain to social stigma to systemic health problems like diabetes.
Students, faculty, and staff from every department in the UMD School of Public Health were engaged in the event, from planning to data collection activities to clean up. More than 1,600 volunteers from many organizations came together to undertake the huge, logistical challenge of turning the University of Maryland’s basketball arena into a temporary dental clinic, with 112 dental chairs and an x-ray center, along with a health equity festival providing free wraparound health services, including flu shots, eye exams, rapid HIV tests, pharmacy medications, and a wide array of patient education services. Dental clinic patients received services including cleanings, fillings, root canals, and extractions; some patients received same-day crowns made by on-site milling units.
Many event collaborators, including the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Maryland State Dental Association, the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the University of Maryland, Baltimore Schools of Dentistry and Pharmacy, helped mobilize volunteers and brought awareness to the need for access to affordable dental care. Event sponsors included Kaiser Permanente, Cigna, and DentaQuest.
Students from the UMD Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and Department of Music performed for the crowd, before a speech by University of Maryland President Wallace Loh and a blessing by His Eminence Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington. Congressman John Delaney (D-MD) and Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, (D-MD) also attended to bring attention to vulnerable populations’ need for oral health services.
While more than 1,200 adults received free dental care, an estimated 1,000 more were turned away due to the event’s capacity, which highlights the substantial need for affordable dental care.