For the first time since its creation seven years ago, the Connecticut Mission of Mercy free dental clinic is coming to Hartford on April 25-26.
It wasn’t easy, but the group of volunteers who plan to serve 2,200 people over those two days in April were able to secure space at the XL Center in Hartford with the help of U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra.
At a Capitol press conference Wednesday, Dr. Robert Schreibman said there were only two places in Hartford that were big enough to host the annual dental clinic: the XL Center and the Connecticut Convention Center. He said the venue needs to be 40,000 to 45,000 square feet to accommodate all the dental chairs, volunteers, and equipment.
The cost of holding the clinic is about $500,000 and the group is still running about $100,000 short of that goal. There’s also still a need for food donations to make sure those who line up and wait in line don’t get hungry while they wait.
Dr. Michael Pearl stressed that donations can be made online to the Connecticut Foundation for Dental Outreach at www.cfdo.org.
Since 2008 the two-day clinic has served nearly 11,000 patients in Tolland, New Haven, Middletown, Waterbury, Danbury, and Bridgeport . During that time it has given away more than $6 million in free dental care at the annual events.
This year’s event in Hartford will have a smaller clinic within the larger one for pregnant women. Schreibman said only 29 percent of pregnant women on Medicaid receive dental care during their pregnancy and 46 percent of women with private insurance plans get dental care during their pregnancy.
“We’re going to try and educate these people to come to the clinic,” Schreibman said.
Dr. Bruce Tandy said they would have 136 dental chairs at the event, which Schreibman added makes it the largest free dental clinic on the eastern seaboard.
There are roughly 500,000 to 600,000 Connecticut residents without dental insurance, a service that employers are likely to cut first in hard economic times because of its high premiums.
Segarra applauded the clinic and its effort to help thousands of people who don’t have access to dental services.
Under the Affordable Care Act dental insurance is included for children under the age of 19, but the state is responsible for providing dental insurance for adults on Medicaid. Like most state Medicaid programs, there’s always a risk it could be cut in the budget process.
The group of dentists who gathered to promote the event Wednesday urged the state to maintain funding for those adults because the free dental clinic shouldn’t be a replacement a dental home.
Murphy applauded the efforts of the clinic in an emailed statement.
“I’ve been proud to support Connecticut Mission of Mercy’s work for years,” Murphy said. “Thanks to this remarkable group, thousands of families without access to quality dental care have been able to meet with a dentist for a checkup free of charge. As we all know, good oral hygiene doesn’t just maintain a white smile: it also reduces the risk of heart disease and other major illnesses.”