OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) – A healthy smile has a lot behind it.
”Teeth aren’t just for biting,” Dr. Bruce Kuhn, chair for Nebraska Mission of Mercy said. “It has a lot to say about your appearance, it has a lot to do with your self-esteem, and how you feel about yourself.“
The Mission of Mercy began in 2005 and since that time with cancellations in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19, over 15,000 people have received more than $6 million in free dental care. Nearly 500 patients were treated Friday at Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha, with a second day Saturday beginning at 6:00 a.m.
A smile is a great thing. A smile opens doors for you.
Unfortunately, one of the first expenses to go when times are tough for families can be regular trips to the dentist. What follows can be painful, and pricey. To get that care for free, some patients drove more than 250 miles.
The end result can be life-changing.
”Mental happiness, being able to smile, not being self-conscious, or just being able to eat comfortably, it’s a real big deal,” Dr. Tim Walker said.
Walker is the director of the Creighton University School of Dentistry and an Oral Maxillofacial Radiologist. Creighton and University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s dental students are working alongside more than 100 dental professionals at the Mission of Mercy.
Donors provide some supplies and support funding, Creighton Prep allowed use of the school for two days, and then there are the volunteers, whose efforts amaze Dr. Bruce Kuhn, co-founder of the Facial Surgery Institute in Omaha who has served as chair for the Nebraska Mission of Mercy for five years.
”We have 400 or 500 volunteers, kids in high school to seniors who give their time,” Kuhn said. “I have no idea where they come from, but it’s cool.”
Kuhn oversees the planning of the two-day Nebraska Mission of Mercy providing free dental care to those who can’t afford it. He says the gratitude their patients show is all the payment these doctors need.
“It’s a blessing, we all look at it that way,” Kuhn said. “The intent in which my fellow docs do this, it’s impressive, there’s no difference between the care they get here and the care we do every day, that’s who (the dental professionals) are. It’s very gratifying for us, to help another human being out is a great feeling.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve all lost something, and for many struggling families without dental insurance or other means, healthy mouths were put on the back burner.
Dr. Lisa Strunk is here to get those kids out of pain.
Strunk and her colleagues began their day helping 49 youngsters who rode on two buses with their families from Lexington, a three-hour drive.
“Today was an incredible opportunity, because we had professionals together with dental students, with pre-dental students, and with kids who have been waiting for dental care for two years,” the Omaha Orthodontist and Pedodontist said. “Some kids you can’t treat in a setting like this because they were afraid, but a lot of kids were so grateful that they were here, that they wanted to have their teeth worked on.”
16-year-old Shelby Gerken came in with her mom and a mouthful of painful cavities.
She was more than willing to have a numbed mouth for a few hours to get them filled for free, and her mother Grace is grateful.
“We don’t have any dental insurance and it was very expensive to get her fillings done,” Grace Gerken said. “It’s amazing what they’re doing here today, from the x-rays to the fillings, the hygiene, the everything.”
“I think it really is amazing that not a lot of people get an opportunity for something like this,” a smiling Shelby Gerken said. “To have this in the metro area is really a great opportunity.”
There are Mission of Mercy programs in 39 states. By the time this year’s Nebraska Mission of Mercy weekend is completed, they will have treated about a thousand patients who otherwise wouldn’t have the means for basic dental care. That means a thousand smiles that could last a lifetime.
”These people are so grateful it’s unbelievable,” Walker said. “That’s why I keep coming back, that’s why we all come back.”
Saturday they will open the doors at Creighton Prep at 6:00 a.m. and expect to see patients until 4:00 p.m.
The dental care is for people who are uninsured or under-insured and anyone who otherwise has a problem getting to the dentist.
“I hope that the community will support the whole Mission of Mercy because it does help people that don’t have the means,” Strunk said. “We’re not trying to treat people who have Medicaid or have money, we want people who don’t have anything, and that’s who we saw today.”
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