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Mission of Mercy, a two-day event coming to Pittsburgh this weekend for the third consecutive year, aims to address a gap in the health care system that leaves more than 70 million Americans without dental care.
Last year, more than 130 dentists contributed their time to provide about $750,000 worth of dental care over two days to 1,103 patients. Those who got care waited for hours at PPG Paints Arena for free treatments like oral cancer screenings, tooth extractions, cleanings and partial dentures.
For this year’s program scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Mission of Mercy Pittsburgh plans to add more dental chairs and is seeking more volunteer dentists to meet a growing demand. There are no income requirements for patients.
“We work every year to make Mission of Mercy better,” said Dr. Daniel Pituch, chief of oral and maxillofacial surgery at UPMC Mercy and UPMC Shadyside. “But we know where the pitfalls are.”
One possible pitfall is an imbalance between the number of providers and the demand for care. Despite treating more than 1,000 people last year, the organization still had to turn people away at the end of each day. As of July 18, Mission of Mercy had about 175 dentists scheduled, but with 100 dental chairs this year, Dr. Pituch and other organizers are still seeking at least 30 more volunteer dentists.
Another possible pitfall is resources. Mission of Mercy Pittsburgh is only 3 years old, filling in a gap after a state-run Mission of Mercy came to Pittsburgh for the first time in 2015.
In 2016, Dr. Pituch, who was the co-chair the year before, wanted to make Mission of Mercy an annual event in Pittsburgh and sought sponsors like Pittsburgh-based TeleTracking Technologies. As the founding sponsor, leaders at TeleTracking saw the possibility for the company’s expertise in automated patient flow solutions to make running the event easier.
“We have a strong focus on fixing health care,” said Keith Young, senior vice president of human resources at TeleTracking. “We saw a need here to really help people get the dental care they need.”