Every year, Remote Area Medical holds a free medical clinic in Wise County, Virginia that serves about 2,000 patients over the course of three days. Among the many services available is dentistry, thanks to the approximately 450 volunteers who make up the Mission of Mercy dental team.
The team performs root canals, fills cavities, extracts teeth and even fits patients with dentures. At previous clinics, there was only enough time to supply around eight sets of dentures during the event, according to the Washington Post.
“When I started, we were doing dentures in the conventional way,” said Mission of Mercy dentist Dr. Scott Miller.
This process involved several complex steps including fittings, re-linings, and finally assembling the dentures by hand in a separate location.
Tools of the Future
But just a few years ago, the team developed a new way to make dentures that can serve almost ten times as many people as the clinics of years past.
“We just had a need for something that instead of doing maybe just twelve patients in a weekend we could do a hundred,” Dr. Stephen Alouf told local news outlet KSNB.
instead of doing maybe just twelve patients in a weekend we could do a hundred
The new method can fit someone with plastic dentures in as little as one hour. This allows dentists to create 50 full and about 30 partial sets at the annual clinic. An acrylic material gives the team the ability take impressions one day and the dentures are ready the next.
The team’s desire to satisfy as many people on the clinic’s waiting list as possible sparked the development of the new method, Dr. Miller said.
“It’s the only way we can put a dent in that list of 800 people,” he said.
No One Left Behind
One attendee of the clinic in July 2017 was 71-year-old Larry Bays. Bays shattered his teeth in a workplace accident that also broke his pelvis and sternum.
The traditional method of creating dentures required patients to register ahead of time, but at this year’s clinic, the new method was so efficient that the team actually had time to fit in patients without appointments, like Bays.
“Wow,” Bays told dental assistant Diana Fuller after seeing his new teeth in the mirror for the first time. “That looks great.”
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Bays was among the many patients who drove several hours and camped out in their cars to be treated. The dentures were surely worth it, however, since they clearly help to reignite a person’s self-esteem.
“Well, you know, dentistry has been pretty good to me,” Dr. Alouf said. “I feel that it’s our role and our responsibility to give back.”