Mark Humenik is on a missionIt’s not every weekend that 1,500 people line up outside of The LaCrosse Center in La Crosse, WI. But for two days last June the Mission of Mercy (MOM), a national organization that assists states in providing free dental care to residents who otherwise are unable to receive treatment, partnered with the Wisconsin Dental Association (WDA) and the Wisconsin Dental Association Foundation to host an event that would offer free dental care to everyone in such a line.
Mark Humenik, a 1988 graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, was one of more than 900 volunteers who cared for patients at the LaCrosse Center.
A year earlier, the Illinois State Dental Society had asked Dr. Humenik to explore the options of Illinois hosting its first MOM event. After his initial research, ISDS committed to hosting an event and Dr. Humenik became co-chair, along with ISDS Trustee Brad Barnes. Dr. Humenik participated in Wisconsin’s MOM to learn more about what it takes to host an event of this proportion in his home state.
“The MOM last June was a terrific learning experience. The team in Wisconsin orchestrated a well-organized, high-energy event. Serving 1,500 patients in one weekend is a great achievement,” said Dr. Humenik.
While at the Wisconsin event, Dr. Humenik worked as a member of the Dental Triage Team. The team looked at patients’ mouths after they had gone through a medical check-in, determined a treatment plan, and then directed patients to various areas where they would receive care.
“It is one of the most critical areas,” Dr. Humenik said.
People had many reasons for coming to the MOM, but some of the most prominent reasons were lost jobs, lack of insurance, not being able to afford care and having no other place to go.
One patient who arrived at the center was a 26-year-old former crystal meth user who sought help for his deteriorating mouth.
“He had destroyed his entire dentition and required full-mouth extractions. He sobbed as he realized the consequences of his actions. I spent a lot of time consoling and reassuring him that this was a necessary step in resuming a healthy life,” Dr. Humenik said. “It was an intense experience, but ultimately uplifting. When he accepted treatment, he was relieved of pain and was helped.”
Oral surgeons gave the patient their numbers and local dentists and laboratories offered to make him a denture at no cost.
“It broke my heart when I saw him. Being in Northbrook, it’s not something that I normally see and I had never seen it first hand,” Dr. Humenik said.
Stories like this are commonly heard by volunteers at MOM’s two-day events, and serve as reminders of the great need for dental care in their communities. That is why Illinois will be the 12th state to host a MOM event in Bloomington June 11-12. This event will organize 600 volunteer dentists, assistants, hygienists, and other interested people to help hundreds of people with their oral healthcare needs.
As co-chair of Illinois’ MOM event, Dr. Humenik has a few goals. They are: providing free access to dental care while placing a high priority on patients suffering from dental infections and pain; raising public awareness of the increasing difficulty low-income adults and children face in accessing critical dental care; and challenging Medicaid patients, policy makers and dental professionals to work together to improve the oral health of those who have been promised care by the state.
Dr. Humenik hopes to see 1,500 patients at the Illinois event and to provide care in the areas of oral surgery, restorative dentistry, pediatric dentistry, and hygiene and laboratory services. Volunteers will also educate patients about the importance of proper oral care.
“The feeling you get from working there is an overall good feeling,” said Dr. Humenik.
To volunteer for the Illinois Mission of Mercy and to learn more about the event, visit www.isds.org/ISDSFoundation/imom.asp.
Ms. Azark is the editorial assistant for the Chicago Dental Society.