Free dental clinic comes to Columbia

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COLUMBIA - Volunteers opened the doors of MU's Hearnes Center Friday at 5 a.m. to offer free dental care to people in need. Dentists and volunteers from all over the state met in Columbia to host the MOMOM free dental health clinic this weekend.

"MOMOM" stands for Missouri Mission of Mercy, a non-for-profit organization that provides dental care to those who could not afford it otherwise.

Lori Henderson, a Columbia pediatric dentist, and the local chairperson for the 2015 MOMOM clinic, said people who are able to go to the dentist regularly often do not appreciate the importance of dental health.

"It's really hard to have a healthy diet, or be a happy, healthy person when you have chronic oral health problems," Henderson said. She said sometimes a simple "toothache" can become a serious infection if never treated. She said some of the people who come to the MOMOM clinic have been in serious pain for months.

The first MOMOM free dental clinic was in Springfield, Missouri in 2011. Last year it was held in St. Louis. However 2015 is the first year for the clinic in Columbia.

Henderson said Columbia was a good choice for the next host city because of its size and its location in the middle of the state.

"We are one of the bigger cities in Mid-Missouri, and this event reaches out to all of Mid-Missouri, and Missouri as well," Henderson said.

But she said in years past, organizers had trouble getting enough volunteers at the host cities. However MOMOM had no problem finding lots of volunteers in Columbia.

"We had amazing leadership here," Henderson said. "We had an excellent group of people with deep ties to a variety of people here in Mid-Missouri." She said getting enough good volunteers is important because the clinic could not go on without them.

Henderson said people come from all corners of the state to receive care, and many of them will stand in line for hours.

One of the patients waiting outside said she got to the clinic at 3 p.m. the day before the doors opened. She said in her 15-hour wait, she passed time by playing cards, and talking to other people who were waiting. She said her wait will have been well worth it if it meant she could get her cracked tooth fixed.

By the combined effort of around 200 dentists and 800 additional volunteers, MOMOM coordinators hope to provide care to 2000 people this weekend, roughly over 100 each hour.

However, even with all the volunteers, Henderson said the clinic will not be able to help everyone in need.

"The oral health problems of adults in Mid-Missouri is severe enough that we will probably turn people away when we hit our capacity," Henderson said.

However she said they will do what they can to help as many people as possible before the clinic ends Saturday at 5 p.m.