Ideally, people should visit their dentist every six months. But the hard fact is that not everyone has access to quality care or the financial resources to pay for it. For those in need, Colorado Mission of Mercy (COMOM) holds clinics free of charge with no questions asked. This large-scale, portable dental clinic is held annually in a Colorado community (the location changes each year). Roughly 75% of patients seen at COMOM clinics have not seen a dentist within the recommended six-month interval, and 5% have never seen a dentist. The major reason given for not seeking care is the inability to pay for it.
This epic dental care event was cancelled in 2020 because of COVID, but COMOM will be in Cañon City Friday and Saturday, September 23–24, 2021. Dental professionals and related staff will provide at least 1,000 patients with more than $1,000,000 in donated services.
In selecting a location, COMOM considers counties in which the residents are in most need of dental care compared with others throughout the state. Criteria for determining this need include the number of dentists in relation to the population and economic factors, such as unemployment, poverty, and household income rates. Also considered is the availability of free or low-cost dental clinics in the area.
In getting the word out, COMOM works with public health and human services departments; school districts; groups that support individuals experiencing unemployment, homelessness, and behavioral and health issues as well as the media.
“Patients undergo cleanings, fillings, root canals, extractions, and as time permits, preparation of flippers and dentures,” says retired Colorado Springs dentist and COMOM board chair, Dr. Nellie Barreto. “The best part about COMOM is that this quality treatment is free.”To get an idea of the clinic’s size, consider this: COMOM needs 200 dentists to provide treatment for the 1,000+ patients who attend. In addition, hundreds of hygienists, assistants, front desk staff, dental lab technicians, and community volunteers are needed to make this event a success.
COMOM began as a project with the Colorado Dental Association in 2007. In 2010, the epic event became an independent nonprofit with 501(c)(3) status. Since COMOM’s inception, 17,000 patients have been seen, and $15,000,000 in dental services has been donated.
COMOM’s clinic has sections set up for oral surgery, endodontic and restorative procedures, dental hygiene, and pediatric dentistry. In addition to the patient treatment areas, there are sections for health and dental triage, imaging, anesthetic administration, and instrument sterilization. It also has an onsite pharmacy and a dental lab.
To promote ongoing oral health, patients are given one-on-one instruction on how to care for their teeth and the importance of preventive dental care. And each patient is provided a list of low-cost dental care options for further treatment.
Jeffrey Khal, DDS, with Colorado Springs Pediatric Dentistry, has been working with COMOM for more than 10 years. “I became a pediatric dentist so I could somehow be a part of making my community better. Ten years ago, access to dental care for the most needy children in Colorado was a lot different, especially in rural areas,” he says. “Less than 50% of those kids got to see a dentist every year. Events like Mission of Mercy make it possible for parents without resources to get their children and themselves the dental care they need and deserve.” He says that many patients return to share stories of the difference their dental care has made. “It’s amazing how something seemingly so small can literally change the trajectory of someone’s life.”
Pediatric dentist Corban Stettler, DDS, with Kids Rock Dentistry in Colorado Springs, remembers what it’s like to grow up with few resources and the difference someone’s help made in his life. “I wanted to be a part of COMOM because I was looking for more ways to give back,” he says. “We got to help so many people at our last event…the power of bringing such a powerful group of dentists together to help serve the state of Colorado is just magical. Being part of COMOM makes me proud of my profession.”