The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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August 17, 2012

First day of free dental clinic puts smiles on lots of faces

MANKATO — As Elaine Pierce sat in a dental chair in the middle of the Verizon Wireless Center floor, where a thousand people had come for free dental care and a thousand more had come to help, her mind drifted back 20 years to the kick in the face that changed her smile forever.

And then tears filled her eyes.

Pierce’s smile is a memorable one. But not for the right reasons. One of her front teeth is missing, a fact she says has kept her from pursuing a better job and contributed to her depression.

Sitting in a dental chair, she waited and fidgeted. She’s eager to try on the new dentures she hopes will give her back the smile she had before it happened.

The Bloomington woman is a victim of domestic abuse. Twenty years ago, her former husband threw her to the ground and kicked her in the face. Pierce, who was four months pregnant at the time, was rushed to the emergency room where she underwent surgery on her face and extreme measures to stop her premature labor. Surgery went well. Her baby was fine. But her smile  ...

“It’s going to mean a lot. My self-esteem is like this,” she says, using her hands to gesture low. “But I’m a survivor. I’m in that survivor mode right now.”

Mission of Mercy is helping her do that.

The inaugural event in Minnesota — sponsored by the Minnesota Dental Association and the Minnesota Dental Foundation — plans to serve as many as 2,000 people by the time it ends Saturday afternoon. If it does, it will provide an estimated $1 million in free dental care to people who need it.

And there are definitely people here who need it.

Tooth extractions, cleanings, X-rays — if dentists do it, people here need it.

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