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Smile: Two days of free dental care delivered to Pittsburgh families

free dental
Sally Quinn
July18/ 2017

Picture a college-size gymnasium filled from backboard to backboard with dental chairs, X-ray machines, and about 500 volunteers, including dentists and dental assistants, nurses, and pharmacists.

That will be the scene at the two-day Mission of Mercy Pittsburgh dental clinic, running from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 28 and 29 at the A.J. Palumbo Center. Treatment will be provided free of charge to kids older than 2 years and all adults. There are no income or eligibility requirements. Registration is first-come-first-served beginning at 6 a.m.

The project has been a year in the making by Dr. Daniel Pituch, M.D., D.M.D., who specializes in oral and maxillofacial surgery at UPMC Shadyside, and Face2FaceHealing, a non-profit he co-founded with Karen Scuilli. Mission of Mercy Pittsburgh is helping to deploy the army of volunteers.

At the clinic, patients will first be seen by the nursing staff who will do health screenings, including blood pressure readings and glucose levels, before they’re sent onto dental triage and X-rays. Dentists will examine and evaluate the patients and develop a master treatment plan. From there, the patients will be routed to various stations, according to their treatment plan.

The stations cover a broad range of dental services – from pediatric dentistry to endodontics (root canals), prosthodontics (dentures, crowns), oral surgery (extractions), and restorative dentistry (fillings).

The endeavor – now in its second year – costs between $150,000 and $200,000, which is supported by donations from TeleTracking Technologies, Inc., UPMC Health Plan, and PNC Bank.

“Last year we delivered almost a million dollars’ worth of dental care over two days,” Dr. Pituch says. “We’re hoping to make it annual. The hope is to raise enough money to be able to provide this on a regular basis in Pittsburgh because we have found there is a significant need.”

free dental
Children from age 2 and older will be welcomed at the Mission of Mercy dental clinic.

Poor dental health in kids is particularly prevalent, he says. One in five kids has untreated dental cavities, making tooth decay the No. 1 health issue among kids in the U.S. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (C.H.I.P.) includes coverage for kids in low-income families, but not all providers accept CHIP or Medicaid.

And sometimes, a working family might have health insurance, but not dental coverage.

“When patients don’t have the money to pay or the insurance to cover that, they defer the treatment or don’t get it. And then they’re in trouble,” Dr. Pituch says. “Education is critical to parents of young children. If the education isn’t there, and the right things don’t happen, these children can develop significant decay that then needs to be treated.”

Neglected dental health, infection, and periodontitis can strain the immune system, lead to heart disease, premature birth, and low birth weight. But 47 percent of those in need of dental care have never seen a dentist, Dr. Pituch reports.

“Mission of Mercy dental clinic can be life changing for patients,” Dr. Pituch says. “I’m a care provider, and this is what I do for a living. It means everything to me to be able to help other individuals.”

free dental
A tractor trailer full of rented dental equipment will be delivered to the A.J. Palumbo Center for a two-day free dental clinic.

Volunteers are needed for dental, medical, and general assistance. Click here to learn more or register. The deadline for volunteer registration is July 24.

Sally Quinn

Sally Quinn is an award-winning writer and editor who has been covering her favorite city for more than 20 years. She welcomes comments and story ideas for Kidsburgh.