“People say they don’t notice, but they do.”
That was the observation of a woman whose smile was restored during a recent Georgia Mission of Mercy.
Dozens of GRU students, faculty, staff members, residents, and alumni volunteered for the event June 18-20 in Perry, Georgia. The volunteer event, sponsored by the Georgia Dental Association, provided free dental care to 2,000 low- and no-income patients, raising awareness about access impediments to oral health care. More than 100 dental chairs, treatment stations, a sterilization department, patient education station, computerized patient registration system, and other resources created a full-scale dental clinic for the event.
The woman whose smile was restored had lost most of her teeth and had no other options for dental work. “I was so embarrassed,” she said.
The dentures she received through the Georgia Mission of Mercy have transformed her life, she said, noting, “I’m going to use my new smile to make somebody’s world a better place.”
[su_pullquote align=”right”]“We were so well-represented, and everyone I spoke with raved about the quality and numbers of our students and residents who participated.” –Dr. Carole Hanes[/su_pullquote]In addition to treatment, patients and family members received education about the importance of oral health. The event also served as a venue to challenge Georgians to work together to improve oral health in the state. The volunteers included not only dentists and other oral health professionals, but lay volunteers who rolled up their sleeves for any needed assistance. Those volunteers included people who have been served by Georgia Mission of Mercy in the past.
For instance, one former patient found himself unemployable after losing many of his teeth in a motorcycle accident. He couldn’t afford treatment, so he credits Georgia Mission of Mercy with changing his life. “I wanted to do as much as I could to help everyone else,” he said. “I’m extremely grateful for what’s happening here.”
“I couldn’t be any prouder of GRU College of Dental Medicine’s role in the weekend,” said College of Dental Medicine Associate Dean Carole Hanes, who was among the volunteers. “We were so well-represented, and everyone I spoke with raved about the quality and numbers of our students and residents who participated. The amount of unmet dental need was overwhelming, but so was the effort to help as many people as possible. We were supposed to stop taking in new patients at about 3 p.m. on Saturday, and I know that there were many still working at 5:30. I know we were all exhausted, but what a good kind of exhaustion it was!”
Dean Carol Lefebvre concurred. “When we showed up at 5 a.m. Friday,” she said, “there were over 1,500 people in line who had begun lining up at 2 p.m. the day before in the heat to get in to be treated.”
She and Associate Dean Philip Hanes provided triage while Dr. Carole Hanes and DeVona Eastman, a College of Dental Medicine Administrative Assistant, oversaw the dental student volunteers. Dr. Michael Pruett, Assistant Professor of Oral Rehabilitation and General Practice Residency Program Director, oversaw oral surgery and brought his entire class of residents to volunteer.
“Listening to the patients complimenting the many volunteers who had helped them absolutely filled my heart and sometimes my eyes as well,” said Dr. Carole Hanes.
Cherie Rainwater, a Georgia Mission of Mercy patient educator, added, “This is the way we give back. This is the way we enrich our lives, helping others have access to care. It’s hard to talk about without getting emotional. People are very thankful. It’s amazing what a healthy smile does for a person’s insides.”