Wisconsin Dental Association gives away $1 million in dental care

Doors open at 5:30 a.m. Friday for day two
Wisconsin has the best dental health in the country, per Wallethub.
Posted at 1:52 PM, Jun 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-22 19:26:12-04

The Wisconsin Dental Association Foundation is providing $1 million in free dental care this weekend at State Fair Park.

This is a part of the group's 9th Mission of Mercy; a program providing dental healthcare for no cost.

Hundreds of people lined up overnight for their chance at free dental work. Some folks were in line Thursday afternoon. 

The Schelke family came all the way from Stevens Point. This is the first time they've been to a dentist since the last Mission of Mercy event in Eau Claire two years ago. 

"My husband had a bunch of dental work done [at the last event]," Kim Schelke said. "A couple thousand dollars worth."

It's a sentiment echoed by many in line. The overcast weather and chillier than normal June temperatures would not stop people from the chance at saving this much money. So while it's a great event, it also shines a light on a big problem facing residents. 

"I got to have some teeth pulled and cavities all over the place," Tom Urban of Racine said. "The system really needs to change. Once you turn 65, you're on Medicare and you don't qualify for any of the good priced dentals." 

"There are a lot of people who need dental work out there that can't afford it," Schelke said. 

"It's cheaper to drive here from Stevens Point than it is to actually pay for the repairs that need to be done," Ric Schelke said. "Sad to say, but it's true."

While the WDA's main goal is to take as many people out of dental pain as possible, they hope legislators, dental providers and patients can come together to make a viable and bipartisan health choice tha twill improve Wisconsin Residents' oral health. 

"We have to make sure everyone has adequate coverage," Wisconsin State Senator LaTonya Johnson said. "We have to make sure those doctors willing to accept Medicaid, that they are reimbursed for their services. We ask a lot of our dentists for pennies on the dollar. We can't continue to do that and expect volumes of people like today to be served."

Johnson says she has seen the impact high dental costs have on families in the area on a personal level.

"There is a 17-year-old I help out," Johnson said. "He was doing some yard work at the house and I asked him if there was anything he needed from the store. He said, ice cream. The ice cream was just left there to melt. I said, I can put it in the refrigerator and he said no, I like my ice cream melted so then it doesn't hurt my teeth. You know he's having significant nerve damage but because of his poverty, he doesn't have access to dentistry."

Johnson hopes they can work something out so programs like this don't have to exist. But in the meantime, people are getting all sorts of work done at State Fair Park. People get cleanings, fillings, extractions and even a limited number of transitional partials for front teeth. For the 1,300 volunteers from 188 Wisconsin communities, it's a day they look forward to. Many of the volunteers are people who have taken advantage of the Mission of Mercy in the past and felt so inclined to volunteer their own time to this worthy cause. 

"Too many folks in line have been dealing with this too long," Dr. Pat Tepe, President-Elect of the WDA said. "Some folks have multiple things and some have one nagging tooth. Our goal is, we can at least deal with thsoe worst ones but some have gone months, some for weeks. We hope not longer than that."

In the eight other events, the WDA says 13,715 children and adults have received in excess of $9.18 million in donated care since 2009. For more information on the program, visit the Wisconsin Dental Association Foundation website.

Doors open at 5:30 a.m. Saturday for day two of the program. They try to help as many people as they can by about 5:00 p.m., roughly 1,000 each day. During past events, the cutoff has usually happened around 10:00 a.m.