Christine Stuart photo

The Connecticut Mission of Mercy will be holding its first free dental health care clinic this weekend and expects to serve between 750 to 1,000 people that lack access to dental care.

It’s estimated that 1 million to 1.5 million Connecticut residents lack access to dental care, Dr. Robert Schreibman said Monday. He said he expects people will start lining up outside the former Tolland High School at midnight Saturday for the first ever Connecticut Mission of Mercy free dental clinic.

Schreibman said he doesn’t doubt that people will cross the border from neighboring states to get in line. He said people will be seen on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The 190 dentists and more than 90 dental hygienist volunteers will be cleaning teeth, filling cavities, and even extracting teeth on Saturday from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 5 a.m. to noon, he said. Equipment for the event is being transported from Kansas and Nebraska, and is expected to arrive the day before the event. Schreibman said the organization is trying to raise $500,000 to buy their its equipment to hold another free clinic next year in New Haven.

“We’d like to treat everybody who shows up,” Schreibman said.

Dr. Brian Duchan, president of the Connecticut State Dental Association, said, dentists across the state step up every day to offer dental care to patients who can’‘t afford it. He said that while he appreciates dentists volunteering their time this weekend, he would like people to remember that “charity is not a health care system.”

Speaker of the House James Amann, D-Milford, said only one-third of the children enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program, known as HUSKY, receive dental care. Last year was the first time since 1993 that the state increased reimbursements to dentists who see children in the HUSKY program, he said.

Amann said he knows the free clinic is not going to solve the problem, but “it’s a way to shed some light on the issue.”

Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said this “should be a wake up call for us here in the state.” He said there is only one dentist in Windham County that accepts the state’s HUSKY insurance. He said Tolland, like many communities in his adjacent Windham County, is a rural part of the state where there’s not many dentists or doctors. He said he hopes this weekend’s event leads to a bigger conversation about universal health care.

Last year, the universal health care debate was put on hold after the release of an Office of Fiscal Analysis report that first said, after stating, “a determination of the fiscal impact of the bill is not possible,” but also estimated a single-payer health care system would cost the state between $11 and $18 billion over two years. Health care advocates say the report was misleading because the state already spends between $15 and $22 billion on health care.

Advocates said that in addition to being misleading, the report did not include the cost savings the state would incur under the system.

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