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Mission of Mercy 2015

Dentists are shown providing free dental care to one of the attendees at the 2015 Mission of Mercy event.

With as many as 200 dentists and over 1,000 volunteers, the Menard’s Conference Center will be transforming into one monstrous dentist office Friday and Saturday as the 8th annual Mission of Mercy comes to Eau Claire.

Mission of Mercy, or MoM, is a dental service that provides free care to those who show up, especially to those in pain or with infections. Dentists usually see about 2,000 patients within the two days and provide the equivalent of $1 million in dental services.

The event looks to help out those who may not be able to afford dental insurance or the yearly costs associated with dental care. While medical assistance is normally available along with reduced-rate dental clinics at Marshfield Clinic and Chippewa Valley Technical College, MoM brings awareness to the barriers faced by low-income adults and children.

Kent Vandehaar, owner of Willow Street Dental and in practice for the last 35 years, has been to every MoM event. He said individuals play a critical role in their own oral health and this event is meant to provide care as well as teach people about preventing dental diseases.

“They not only get good care, get out of pain, and get some work done,” Vandehaar said, “but they also get educated on how to take care of themselves and what they can do to prevent these problems in the future.”

While many Chippewa Valley dentists will be participating, dentists come from around the state as well as from around the country to participate in MoM. A semi will be arriving Thursday with 100 portable dentist set-ups to be used during the event.

The conference center will be a fully-functioning dental clinic that will provide everything from medical and dental screenings to a dental lab, and even work for root canals and dentures. Vandehaar said where there’s 200 dentists, a lot of work can get done.

“It’s pretty amazing,” he said. “People will sleep overnight. It’s like going to a rock concert. They’ll be lined up at the door.”

Vandehaar said everyone there has a story. Some people have been in pain for six months without getting a good night’s sleep. Others can’t laugh until they get a front tooth replaced.

For JoAnn Hill-Lang, her story is that she needed to get teeth removed last year — 11 of them. After talking with dentists and oral surgeons, they told her the cost would come out to around $15,000. Hill-Lang and her husband are on Social Security disability and haven’t been able to afford dental insurance. At first, she didn’t know what she was going to do.

Then a volunteer told her about MoM happening in Tomah. Once there, they removed her teeth, did a cleaning and gave her fillings. Hill-Lang is hoping to attend the event again this year to finish up some extra dental care she needs done.

“I just bawled the whole time I was there because I was so grateful,” she said.

Hill-Lang lives in Elmwood and drove two hours just to get to MoM, and didn’t care how long she had to wait. She said the volunteers — from those who registered people in line to those providing the screenings and care — were what made the event so special. After her experience, she plans on volunteering next year no matter where the event is.

“It’s a joy to see that and see how many people actually care about other people,” Hill-Lang said. “Without them, I don’t know what we would do.”

“They not only get good care, get out of pain, and get some work done, but they also get educated on how to take care of themselves and what they can do to prevent these problems in the future.” Kent Vandehaar, Mission of Mercy dentist

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