The Free Press, Mankato, MN


August 17, 2012

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



 Two years ago, the MDA decided to hold a Mission of Mercy event. Similar events had been held in 17 other states. To prepare, they attended events in other states and tried to collect all of the best practices for the Minnesota event.

“I’ve talked to people from other states,” said MDA President Michael Zakula, “and they said this is by the best first-run Mission of Mercy they’ve ever seen.”

Zakula said events such as Mission of Mercy shine a light on the fact that there are so many Minnesotans, so many Americans, who can’t afford health or dental care.

“The state of Minnesota does not have a way to take care of our vulnerable adults and children,” Zakula said.

Laura Kramer, who handles legislative initiatives for the MDA, said the group was able to raise $350,000 to hold the event. They also received a $150,000 donation form Delta Dental and other corporate gifts.

“We were really overwhelmed by the support,” Kramer said.

Running through the crowd were people with bright yellow neon shirts escorting patients through the process. Others had darker shirts. Those were translators, ready to help those who spoke Nepalese, Spanish, Somali, Hmong, French, Russian or American sign language to get their dental needs filled.

Some volunteers offered to help simply because they believe in the value of maintaining good oral hygiene.

Carol Budde said she heard about the program from Mankato dentist Doug Otopalik, who put a notice in his church newsletter.

“I was born with a cleft palate, so I’ve had a lot of work done,” she said. “It’s wonderful that they came to Mankato.”

Jeff Taylor, a dentist who practices in Mapleton, said it’s impossible for a one-time event to really solve the dental problems of people who can’t afford it. It’s a great start, he said, but there needs to be a way to remove barriers to getting dental care, not to mention follow-up care.

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