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Health--it's what we all have in common: whether we're trying to maintain our health through good habits or improve our failing health. "Bridges to Health" is 90.5 WESA's health care reporting initiative examining everything from unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act to transparency in health care costs; from a lack of access to quality care for minority members of our society to confronting the opioid crisis in our region. It's about our individual health and the well-being of our community.Health care coverage on 90.5 WESA is made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.

Free Downtown Dental Clinic To Fill Medicaid Gaps For 2K Patients

Noah Brode
90.5 WESA

Patients of all stripes leaned back in rows of dental chairs on the main floor of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center early Friday for free procedures ranging from walk-in cleanings to root canals and extractions.

The 4th annual dental screenings organized by Mission of Mercy, or MOM-n-PA, continue from 5:30 a.m. to about 2 p.m. Saturday. 

The all-day clinics provide free treatment for people like Joelle Mauser of Brookline, who said she’d been putting off dental care for too long.

“I just had nine teeth removed, because I’m trying to get ready to have dentures,” Mauser said. “Everybody was really nice and friendly. They had a lot of patience for me, because it was really hard to get me numb.”

Credit Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA
A sign advertises where patients can get free fillings at a dental clinic event at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on Friday, June 3, 2016.

She wasn't alone. Pittsburgh organizers said they expect about 2,000 patients during the two-day event. Nearly 5,600 total patients received more than $2.7 million worth of care at three previous events in Philadelphia, Allentown and Harrisburg. 

Since the Corbett administration cut back on Pennsylvania’s Medicaid dental coverage four years ago, low-income patients in the commonwealth no longer have coverage for root canals or periodontal disease, and denture work is limited.

Dan Finnegan, who practices dentistry in Robinson Township, said the cuts to the state's Medicaid dental program are forcing more people to seek out free dental clinics.

“What state insurance does now, since 2012, people can’t get the work that they need done, done," Finnegan said. "So, it’s a good opportunity for them to do that at a place like this.”

Even Pennsylvania’s top health care official, Health Secretary Karen Murphy, showed up in scrubs to volunteer Friday morning. She said oral care doesn’t get the attention it deserves from the public.

Credit Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA
Hundreds of dentists, dental hygienists and dental students gather at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center for a free walk-in dental clinic Friday, June 3, 2016.

“Even those with dental insurance don’t seek dental care, and there is a connection between dental health and physical health,” Murphy said.

Several studies in the U.S. National Library of Medicine suggest that infections of the mouth spurred by poor oral care can spread to other parts of the body, which can be a serious problem in patients whose immune systems are compromised.

Dr. James Bramson of the dental insurance company United Concordia said research also shows that oral treatment can reduce overall medical costs for patients with illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, or stroke.

“So it’s now true more than ever: the mouth is the missing piece in overall care,” Bramson said.

Health care coverage on 90.5 WESA is made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.