Blue sky breaks through what had been a drizzly morning outside the Arizona State Fairgrounds, where the Central Arizona Mission of Mercy held its free clinic. On Dec. 7 and 8, patients numbering into the thousands—many of whom camped out for days before the doors opened—waited in line for a chance to receive treatment. The clinic marked the mission's seventh annual event and would deliver upwards of $2 million in free care to those in need.
Inside the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum’s nearly 15,000-square-foot facility, 300 dentists and more than 1,200 hygienists, support staff and other volunteers transformed the arena into a 100-chair dental practice, including individual sections for hygiene, pediatrics, oral surgery, fillings, dentures and more. Patients were treated from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. for two days.
A child looks on while his mother undergoes the screening process before being admitted and directed to a specific area. In 2010, Arizona discontinued adult dental benefits from its widely used Medicaid system. Only recently have limited benefits been restored, with an annual cap of $1,000—an insufficient sum for patients with complex dental needs, according to the directors of the mission.
Dozens of hygiene chairs line half the width of the Coliseum’s concrete floor. One of the busiest sections of the event, the hygiene department consisted of volunteers from across the state. According to one survey, upwards of 20 percent of adults and 30 percent of children in Arizona have never had a dental checkup. For many who were seen in the hygiene department, it was the first cleaning they'd had in years—if ever.
After standing in line since 5 a.m. Friday, Ashley Bersine of Phoenix and her three children sit in a waiting area. Bersine and her family camped out to be sure they'd get inside and receive treatment. Unfortunately for some, standing in line did not guarantee treatment that day, and many had to come back Saturday. Bersine hoped to get checkups and cleanings for all of her children.
Volunteers Mairely Vazquez, left, Chelsea Contreras Molinar and Rogelio Favela pose for a photo in the screening area. Favela, who had volunteered for five of the previous seven years, said that each year the event seems to draw more and more people seeking treatment.
Patients wait in line outside the section of the clinic dedicated to oral surgery. Doctors and volunteers focused on treating the most serious issues they could eliminate in one treatment, because each patient would likely only be seen once.
Angel Vasquez sits in the waiting area after braving the cold and rain for hours. Once inside, Vasquez waited his turn for screening and evaluation, before being sent for X-rays, where his most dire needs were narrowed down and he was assigned to a wing of the clinic for treatment.
This was the fourth AZMOM volunteer session for Pamela Mosca, who's been a hygienist for 40 years. Mosca helped handle the X-rays of incoming patients and inputting information into charts. The mission has even created its own electronic medical record system, in hopes of streamlining processes each year and quantifying its long-term impact on the community.
A hygienist treats a patient inside the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum. A large focus of the event is dedicated to patient education, because many of the issues doctors and hygienists treated over the two-day clinic could be eliminated with ongoing preventive care.
A woman waits outside of the oral surgery department with her patient folder. Since 2012, the Central Arizona Dental Mission of Mercy has provided free care for more than 10,000ipeople, at a cost of nearly $12 million in mostly private donations.
A hygienist pauses a moment between treating patients. Each year, the mission needs more volunteers and more corporate foundations, because the number of those in need continues to climb.
A volunteer face painter adds a splash of color to a girl after her treatment. The Central Arizona Dental Mission of Mercy continues to work on raising more awareness for low-income adults and children when addressing necessary dental care. For many children visiting the free clinic, it may be their first ever dental appointment—and the only one until the mission comes back next year.
Second-year volunteer Michael Bonanno stops for a picture before continuing his work. His painted face brought a smile to many, especially those being seen in the pediatric wing of the clinic. The mission hoped to get as many patients smiling as it could, first through alleviating pain, but also in giving back confidence to those haven't been able to smile in years.
Volunteer Dr. Trever Siu, a periodontist, talks with patients before continuing evaluations. There was a constant flow of patients from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days the clinic was open. Patients with any medically compromising conditions could be referred to community resources offsite as needed.
Drs. Lawrence Wallace and Liat Furyan-Banach stand beside a patient who just finished his treatment to receive a full set of dentures. Wallace, the creator of a one-step denture system, was volunteering for the fourth time. The need for dentures was so high that all available times, spaces and resources were depleted before the first day of the clinic was finished.
Members from the Cerec team pose with on the company's imaging systems, a technology relatively new to the event, which has allowed for a wider variety of same-day treatments for patients.
Volunteer Jesse Kosnitzky holds out a crown milled by a Cerec machine and an original block of material. Thanks to advanced technologies and equipment donated to the clinic, same-day crowns became a treatment option available to patients. In previous years, same-day crowns were not considered a viable treatment for patients.