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free dental care Mission of Mercy
Patients receive cleanings at the 2017 Oklahoma Mission of Mercy in Woodward, Oklahoma, on Saturday, Feb. 4. (Tres Savage)

Oral health care is important. If you’ve followed NonDoc long enough, you’ve had occasion to read about what causes cavities, how they can be avoided and why an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment.

Over the past 10 years, Oklahomans have been blessed with several opportunities to obtain free, life-changing dental care. On Feb. 7 and 8 at the Payne County Expo Center in Stillwater, that chance comes again. Regardless of income, insurance or immigration status, any individual is eligible to receive, cleanings, fillings or extractions during the 11th annual Oklahoma Mission of Mercy event, a free and large-scale dental clinic hosted by the Oklahoma Dental Association, Delta Dental of Oklahoma’s Oral Health Foundation and other partners.

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Potential patients may have questions, and OKMOM has a frequently asked questions page that describes care limitations, blood pressure/sugar requirements and other relevant details. Many patients wait overnight to access this amount of free dental care, which could cost up to thousands of dollars in a private dental clinic setting.

Thanks to hundreds of volunteer dentists, hygienists, assistants and general supporters, that care will be free on Friday, Feb. 7, and Saturday, Feb. 8.

Poor oral health means more than just pain

The value of good oral health care can hardly be overstated. In fact, too often it is understated in our society. Few people — especially children — enjoy going to the dentist. It can be costly and painful.

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But oral health also affects other elements of a person’s overall health. Cavities are caused by bacterial infection, and our mouths are the entry points to our respiratory and digestive tracts. Poor oral health can contribute to cardiovascular disease, endocarditis and pneumonia, according to the Mayo Clinic. Having cavities — also called dental caries — can further complicate conditions like diabetes.

The good news is that dental caries are preventable through twice-annual visits to a hygienists and dentist, as well as recommended brushing, flossing and avoidance of others’ oral bacteria. While going to the hygienist and dentist twice a year might seem unnecessary, ask yourself a simple question: What would happen to your car if you never changed its oil?

Free dental care: Cleanings valuable, too

Fortunately for those who have neglected their mouths, events like OKMOM exist to provide free dental care for those whose budgets would otherwise be strained to access oral health professionals.

Even those not needing cavities filled or teeth pulled can consider the value of free exams and cleanings. Oral health is important, and the chance for so many Oklahomans to receive free dental care should never be taken for granted.

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William W. Savage III (Tres) holds a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma. He covered two sessions of the Oklahoma Legislature for eCapitol.net before working in health care for six years. He is a nationally certified Mental Health First Aid instructor.