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Worth the wait: Two-day free clinic is about more than dental care; it’s also about community

Most of us have never had to stand in line overnight to get something we really needed, but that is exactly what many will do this September at the New Mexico Dental Association Foundation’s Mission of Mercy. What you may not realize is that many of those in line never imagined they would ever need to be there. Many are retirees, single parents or young people no longer covered by parents’ insurance. Some simply lost coverage when their employer cancelled it or they changed jobs. Events like the Mission of Mercy free two-day dental clinic, even though they help a lot of people, are less about solving the problem than understanding it.

Putting a face on the health care crisis helps us realize that we all have a stake in how it is addressed. There aren’t simple solutions. Political catchphrases like “repeal and replace” or “Obamacare” make good sound bites, but they don’t address the problem. Non-responsive ideas like new mid-level providers are a distraction from the actual problems and waste resources needed for truly responsive solutions. There is a cost to inaction that seems to never be considered, but it is compounding daily and it will ultimately be paid in economy-chilling expenses and increased human suffering.

Leaving this problem to those whose vision doesn’t extend beyond the next election cycle is proving futile. Citizens must demonstrate an understanding of the problem and insist upon responsible cost-effective solutions. There is too much at stake to waste precious limited resources on fads and theories that don’t demonstrate real results.

New Mexico’s dentists don’t presume to have all the answers, but we do know something about how disease impacts people’s lives and what it takes to deliver cost-effective care. We know that charity is not a health care system. We also know that preventing disease is the only way our society will be able to afford a system that reasonably cares for all. Care facilitation is the future of dental care, not more people drilling and filling. The New Mexico Mission of Mercy is the opportunity for oral health professionals to shine a spotlight on these issues and the path toward solutions.

One of the values of a Mission of Mercy is that it takes a community. Dental professionals are only part of the equation. Nearly a thousand volunteers with no dental experience will provide the support services that will allow us to do more than a million dollars of care in two days. Corporate and individual donations pay for the infrastructure and materials that will turn the Albuquerque Convention Center into a giant dental clinic. Those are opportunities for anyone to support this effort and gain first-hand experience with the challenges of the health care system. Donate or volunteer online at