/ by Whitney Hayward

Missouri is ranked 41st in adult oral health care.

Last week, the Mission of Mercy dental health clinic offered free care to anyone who could make the drive to the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau.

Lavanna Radica and her boyfriend Troy Crowden (first image) were pretty close to the front of the line, and had been waiting for 12 hours when I spoke with them. Lavanna needed teeth pulled and cavities filled, but only one dentist in her area took Medicaid. That dentist had a year and a half wait, and Lavanna said that year and a half wait wasn’t for a treatment appointment, only a consult.

Jeremey King (sixth image) and his uncle Troy Kidwell were the first two in line for the dental clinic. They drove 200 miles and waited 36 hours to be seen. Jeremey said he originally thought the clinic was a hoax, because he knew how much it would cost to see a dentist, and there was “no way that would be free."

The reporter I went along with talked to a person who had their sister pull five teeth with a pair of dentist’s pliers purchased at a yard sale.

“She would break the tooth loose first and then just work them out a little at a time. Once the tooth gets out, it’s a relief. I would just go through the pain of letting her pull them out to keep from suffering.”

The clinic saw around 1,780 patients. Approximately 1,165 cavities were filled. Around 2,600 teeth were pulled. $962,000 in free health care was provided that weekend.

I don’t really know what to say about all of this. I can’t pretend to know the intricacies of Medicaid, or any government-based healthcare program. I don’t know how this can be fixed. And it’s easy for me to say, “something needs to be done," when I don’t have any tangible solutions to the problem. Talking to people though, and hearing how many people  wanted or needed all of their teeth pulled, it’s hard to believe that our dental health care system isn’t broken.