Dental care given to those in need at volunteer event

In a first-come, first-serve fashion, patients unable to regularly afford dental care were given the opportunity recently to receive free treatment from volunteer dentists and dental hygienists.

Robert H. Frederickson, DDS, participated as a volunteer on June 7th and 8th’s Mission of Mercy-In-PA (MOM-n-PA) at Mohegan Sun Arena, in Wilkes-Barre.

Those in need of dental care lined up and waited patiently for their chance to sit in one of the 120 chairs set up in different departments within the arena.

The departments included oral surgery (teeth extraction), endodonics (root canals), pediatrics, dentures and where the patients could find Frederickson — dental restoration (dental fillings). Some people even spent Thursday night in line in hopes to see one of the certified dentists.

“People showed up, it was Friday and Saturday,” Frederickson said. “The first guy showed up at 8 p.m. on Thursday night, so when I got there at a quarter to six in the morning, the line was 100 yards long. People came in all day long.”

Each patient seen was screened for medical complications prior to treatment, and those who were qualified health wise would receive dental services at absolutely no cost. The only time a patient was turned to other health care options were due to the need for a complex surgery because of sanitary reasons.

“We offered all services from the moment the patient came in. The oral diagnosis, and then there was triage. They were screened medically and then they were sent to the different departments,” Frederickson said.

Frederickson went on to add that the event could not have been done all these years without the help of foundations who supply donations and monetary donations to the event.

“They said the whole set up costs probably over $200,000, but you know everything is donated. There are foundations who pay for companies to come in and set up the chairs and of course when you have dentistry you have to have water, and suction, and air to each of those chairs,” added Frederickson. “I mean, the plumbing and electric was phenomenal. They put it up in a day, putting it up Thursday and taking it down Sunday.”

Following the dental care services needed, each patient received a post-op form that provides them with local doctor’s and/or local service agency’s telephone and contact name, according to the MOM-n-PA website.

While this service was provided, Frederickson also took it upon himself to act as both a certified dentist and as an educator for the patients.

“It was a wonderful experience to help these people. That was the good part, but the sad part is that this is just one day in their life,” Frederickson said. “You know the adage of, ‘Give me a fish and I eat today, but teach me to fish and I’ll eat forever.’ So, when I was working on these people and waiting for anesthesia, I would talk to them and ask how they got into the shape they are in and then talk to them about diet and homecare.”

The first mission for MOM-n-PA took place in Philadelphia in 2013. In its inaugural year, the two-day mission brought in 1,001 volunteers and 1,820 patients.

In total, the volunteers provided $850,000 worth of free dental care. Flash forward, to 2019 where, according to Frederickson’s estimates, there was about 1,000 patients seen a day and around $1 million worth of free dental care provided total.

Frederickson added that the numbers he witnessed did not come from a small group of people, but rather a large number of volunteers that traveled far and wide to be there that day. Volunteers were not only certified dentists, but also dental students from across PA who acted as assistants in the services.

“There were students there from Pitt, Penn and Temple and they were volunteering and learning. It gave me the chance to teach them and to educate patients and to do procedures. I mean it was just a great event,” Frederickson said.

One volunteer that Frederickson was able to work with was a woman from Ukraine who not only helped in the dental services, but also helped translate for patients who knew little to no English.

“What was memorable was that the kids that were there helping out were from all over the place. I had an assistant who was from the Ukraine. She came over at 12 years old… So she had to learn English, but the practice that she works in North East Philly, she said 80 percent of their patients are Spanish and 50 percent of them don’t speak English,” said Frederickson. “So we had some Spanish speaking patients there, and she was able to converse with them. That was kind of neat.”

According to Frederickson, based off his knowledge he is the only local Lycoming County dentist that attends the event. The next MOM-n-PA will be hosted in Philadelphia in conjunction with Temple University’s dental school. According to Frederickson, he would love to see more representation from the Lycoming County area at the next major effort to help those in need.

“If you’re house is on fire, you don’t call the carpenter, but you can’t drive the nails fast enough. You need to put the fire out first, so call the fire department. Then once you get the fire out, then you can restore it, Frederickson said. “And these people’s mouths are like the house on fire, they’re in trouble. It would be nice if there was something more comprehensive but in lew of that, this is at least an effort.”