Lil’ Flossie revisits DuluthLil’ Flossie is back in town. The Salvation Army’s mobile dental care unit is hitting the streets of Duluth this week to bring free care to the underserved.
By: Clara Hatcher, Duluth Budgeteer News
Lil’ Flossie is back in town.
The Salvation Army’s mobile dental care unit is hitting the streets of Duluth this week to bring free care to the underserved. Described as a “two-chair dental suite on wheels,” its monthly mission is to help any person in need of dental care.
“Whatever teeth I have left are so bad that nobody would give me a job, even if I am qualified,” said Terri Solem, a patient recently treated by the Salvation Army’s volunteer dentists. “Dental care for those of us without insurance was nonexistent before this program.”
Solem may be an extreme example; she has 17 teeth left and says dentures are now her only option.
In the meantime, she said, “The Salvation Army is taking care of people like me and giving us a chance to go without tooth pain, even if it’s only for a week. That’s more than any of us could ask for.”
The 32-foot mobile clinic has been helping hundreds of people like Solem two to three days a month since the end of January. Gordon Mesedahl, the director of development for The Salvation Army, said the idea for the mobile clinic for the uninsured and underserved started last fall when the organization’s board began seriously discussing how to help untreated patients.
“We had known for some time that untreated dental problems lead to serious and sometimes life-threatening complications,” he said. “For folks without insurance, it can be up to four to six weeks before a dental issue is addressed. If the pain and discomfort gets too intense, sometimes they will go to the emergency room to receive pain medications or antibiotics that may or may not help.”
Mesedahl said The Salvation Army and other organizations such as CHUM were growing more concerned that untreated dental problems for people unable to afford care could lead to other health issues.
The two groups teamed up with Twin Cities-based Minnesota Mobile Dental (which provides Flossie), Medical Teams International and the Duluth Fire Department. The free clinic helped 16 adults and one child the first day by giving much-needed fillings and extractions, Mesedahl said. Since then, about 10-15 percent of patients have been children.
The cost to transport and operate the roving dental clinic comes out to about $1,000 per day, averaging to roughly $80 per patient, Mesedahl, adding that donations are encouraged and appreciated.
Since its jump start in January, the clinic has attracted local volunteer dentists such as Dr. Michael Bussa, Dr. Grant Nelson and Dr. John Wainio.
”I volunteered because it was obviously a good thing to do,” Wainio told the Budgeteer News. “It is the type of no-strings-attached service work that I appreciate doing.”
He also discussed the need.
“These patients obviously cannot get help from anywhere else; even when they go to urgent care or the emergency room, there is no dentist available,” he said, “so they are just given narcotics or antibiotics that have a chance of being abused.”
According to the American Dental Association, dental issues such as chronic tooth decay, cracked teeth and gingivitis can all be derived from substance abuse.
“Most of the time I will never be able to get help for my teeth because of how they look,” Solem said. “Medical providers have an idea that when you’re an uncared-for dental patient, you’re a drug abuser, even if you’ve never touched a drug in your life. The Salvation Army doesn’t care what it looks like, and they will never turn you away.”
Lil’ Flossie will be up and running at The Salvation Army on June 26, 27 and 28. The first clinic day will be for teeth cleanings and the second two days will be for restorative fillings and extractions.
“The dental clinic is meant to help anyone who needs it,” Mesedahl said. “We are grateful to be able to fill that niche in the community.”