My Country for a Tooth

Occupy Dentistry

Today was a tough day. Today was Dental Clinic day.

Occupy Eugene Medical Clinic (OEMC) opened the doors to a free mobile dental clinic for one day in cooperation with Medical Teams International (MTI) and St. Vincent de Paul. The mobile unit is a dental office on wheels. It has 2 dental chairs to serve 2 patients consecutively. The dental chairs are in opposite ends of the van with a sterilization lab/office/waiting area in the center. We kept the dentist and his 2 assistants busy (17 patients total) from 8 am to 1:30 pm this Saturday. This video shows the clinic in action in another part of the state.

This mobile unit is not cheap to fund. It costs $1600 to run which includes gas, insurance, staff, equipment, medicine, and utilities. St. Vincent de Paul managed to pick up a little help from the generosity of Oregonians. Some of the windfall from Oregon tax credit ended up in St. Vincent de Paul’s hands to offer free dental services to our citizens. The money was put to good use.

St. Vincent’s desperately wanted to offer this service but didn’t have the resources to field the patients. This is where Occupy came in. We ran a press release, screened responses and interviewed patients to be certain that the neediest and most desperate cases where in line first. Even though we were offering extractions only, we received close to 40 requests for dental service.

We feared that we could only help 10 patients in the short window of opportunity. Extractions are tricky. The dentist could only work on one quadrant at a time. Some teeth crumbled as he touched them. Most of the patients needed multiple teeth extracted. Some had gums that were so infected that they looked like hamburger. It was heartbreaking.

With creative and clever management from our lead OEMC dental organizer, we managed to serve 17 patients. After they left the clinic, patients were offered medical help from our OEMC staff. We had tinctures to supplement their prescriptions and were able to look to their other health concerns as they waited.

The dental patients sat quietly in chairs by the medical table waiting for their turn. Some were scared. Some were holding their swollen jaws tenderly. Some smiled bravely with knowledge that their suffering from the infected teeth tearing holes in their mouths would be gone soon. I wished I could help more.

Tomorrow is OEMC’s regular Sunday clinic in the park. We expect to see some of our patients from the dental clinic return to have their extraction sites checked by both our volunteer hygienist and our volunteer doctors. The clinician estimated that by the end of the day, we had given away $4000 worth of dental care. Our volunteers from MTI, St. Vincent’s and OEMC logged close to 100 hours of volunteer time.

I watched the last patient walk out of the parking lot with a friend. She turned and waved. Her fear and pain had been replaced with relief. It was a tough day but it was worth every minute. If I am lucky, I get to do it again in a few months.

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One Response to My Country for a Tooth

  1. Dan Robinson says:

    I went l0oking for the OE “Medical Clinic” the last two Sundays, at the two places I heard it would be, but didn’t find it. I was planning on making a donation and possible service, formerly trained as an Army Med Lab Tech, but further reading says the latter wouldn’t be appropriate. Is there any place in OE that would be? Will the van be in the Park Blocks at a later date maybe?


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