More than 1,000 volunteers — including dentists, clinicians, opticians, ophthalmologists, nurses, imaging technicians and general volunteers — are preparing to care for patients at Mission of Mercy Pittsburgh’s free dental, vision and hearing clinic this Friday and Saturday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.
The event is free for adults and children 2 and up, and there are no eligibility requirements to attend, according to a news release. Dental procedures and treatments that will be provided include dental exams, cleanings, minor restorative fillings, extractions, root canal treatments on select teeth, oral hygiene instruction and a limited number of temporary partial dental appliances. Pediatric dentists will also be on site to provide specialized care to children.
Patients can also choose to receive free vision and hearing care, including eye exams, eyeglass fittings, and free eyeglasses, and fittings to receive free hearing aids, the news release stated.
All services will be provided at no charge to patients, and there are no income, eligibility or preregistration requirements to receive care. Doors to the clinic will open at 6 a.m. and close when capacity is reached each day.
Pittsburgh’s first Mission of Mercy was held in 2017 after a similar statewide group selected the city for a clinic in 2016. People flocked to it for dental care, but the group wouldn’t be able return for five years. The first event at the Palumbo Center with 40 dental chairs served 850 patients, and it has changed locations twice as patient numbers increased.
“Every year we look forward to helping our most vulnerable community members access proper dental care to improve their health. No one should have to suffer in pain due to lack of insurance coverage or financial reasons. Oral health problems can become life-threatening if left untreated, so it’s important for those who need dental care to come see us,” Mission of Mercy co-founder Daniel Pituch, chief of oral and maxillofacial surgery, UPMC Mercy and UPMC Shadyside, said in the news release.
Income disparities coupled with the challenges presented by inflation and the out-of-pocket costs of hearing aids and glasses mean that many individuals, caretakers and seniors delay getting the care they need, according to the news release. Patients who postpone oral care often end up at hospital emergency departments, which are not equipped to provide dental care beyond pain management.
The clinic’s major sponsors include the Highmark Foundation, United Concordia Dental, Allegheny Health Network, UPMC and the UPMC Health Plan, the Eye & Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh, PNC, Teletracking and the Oakledge Foundation.
“UPMC Health Plan is honored to sponsor the 2023 Mission of Mercy Pittsburgh event. We also want to thank UPMC for their in-kind support, volunteers and partnership. Many individuals in the Pittsburgh region are delayed in receiving proper dental care due to cost or access to health insurance. As a co-founder of the Mission of Mercy Pittsburgh, we are urging physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dentists, hygienists, dental assistants and all health care providers to support this year’s event so we may continue to expand services to as many patients as possible at no cost,” Richard M. Celko, chief dental officer, UPMC Health Plan, said in the news release.
Yvonne Cook, president of the Highmark Foundation, said in the news release that her organization is proud of how Mission of Mercy Pittsburgh continues to meet the demand and need across southwest Pennsylvania for so many individuals. “The fact that people look forward to this annual event so that they can receive care highlights how critical the services provided are, including dental, vision, hearing and immunizations,” she said. “Our family of companies are honored to continue to support A Call to Care’s Mission of Mercy Pittsburgh event year after year, which contribute to the overall health and well-being of our communities.”
Hearing and vision care, including free hearing aids and glasses, were added to the services provided by Mission of Mercy Pittsburgh starting in 2022, giving patients the opportunity to receive more comprehensive care in a single day. Hearing impairment in adults is associated with an increase in depression and poorer quality of life, according to the news release. For seniors on limited incomes, hearing aids are often out of financial reach, as hearing aids typically are not covered by insurance, making them the third most expensive purchase over a person’s lifetime after a home and car.
Consistent vision screening and care are also critical. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 93 million adults in the United States are at high risk for serious vision loss but only half visited an eye doctor in the past 12 months, the news release states. And according to the CDC, approximately 6.8% of children younger than 18 years in the United States have a diagnosed eye and vision condition.
In 2022, Mission of Mercy Pittsburgh provided 7,210 dental procedures, 681 pairs of free eyeglasses and 229 free hearing aids.
Dental volunteers, including dentists and hygienists, are still needed for this year’s clinic. To learn more and register as a volunteer visit, www.MoMPgh.org/volunteer/.