All Friday the team at Monocacy River Dental Care received phone calls from patients and others around the county. They called to find out more about the free dental services the dentist office offered Saturday.

For the first time, the dental office chose to offer free services. A patient could get a free cleaning, simple extraction or filling, said Dr. Toral Patel, one of the dentists.

Patel and her colleague, Dr. Nareh Issayans, decided to hold a day of free dental care to raise awareness of dental problems. Many people do not realize that they have periodontal disease or a cavity until it is too late.

The free services will give people a chance to see the dentist and, hopefully, address some of their problems, Patel said. It will also help the office get more patients.

There will be seven dentists from neighboring offices lending a hand to provide the free services, she said.

But while the office is holding a day of free dental services, it is just one piece helping to address an increasing problem.

Dental services can be expensive, even for those who do have insurance, said Linda Ryan, executive director of Mission of Mercy. The nonprofit offers a free dental clinic.

There is a dental crisis in the United States, Ryan said. There’s a shortage of dentists in some places or dentists taking on new patients. And for others, even if there are enough dentists, lack of insurance or the cost of copays prevent people from seeking dental services.

In Frederick County, four out of 10 households fall under the Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed line, which means they cannot pay for basic needs, according to the latest ALICE report from the United Way of Frederick County.

When it comes to dental services, some might not be able to afford to pay for dental insurance because they work multiple jobs but none offer insurance. Others might be on medicare but cannot afford the supplemental dental insurance. So some might skip going to the dentist.

“Every procedure is costly when you go to the dentist,” she said.

Ryan said one of the dentists that volunteers with Mission of Mercy told her about a woman who had one of her teeth pulled. Underneath, there was an abscess, already starting to affect her brain.

Mission of Mercy gave her antibiotics, and the woman’s abscess cleared up. She thought she was developing dementia.

“Those are the kind of stories we hear,” Ryan said.

Even procedures covered by insurance still carry hefty copays, Ryan said. A $1,000 root canal might still mean a $250 out-of-pocket cost.

“I think that’s the problem with insurance,” she said. “It doesn’t pay for everything.”

And for the patients under the ALICE line, paying the $250 copay might mean not being able to pay for another basic need, like food or rent.

Mission of Mercy’s dental clinic mostly performs oral extractions and fillings. They do have some oral surgeons they work with for more complicated needs.

Ryan said that through the clinic, the mission sees firsthand how expensive dental services are. It is costly to run the dental clinic, she said, and the nonprofit mostly relies on grants and other nonprofits to keep it running.

Monocacy River Dental Care is aware that not everyone can afford dental services, Patel said. Outside of the free dental services day, the office offers a $79 incentive for any patient without insurance.

For that $79, the patient receives an exam, a cleaning and x-rays, she said.

From there, if there is a dental problem that requires more services, the office works to help them get dental insurance.

It also offers emergency exams for $1 if a patient without insurance comes in to the office in pain. That $1 exam lets the dentists figure out what is causing the problem.

“So I feel every office needs to accommodate patients of all backgrounds, irrespective of if they have insurance or not,” Patel said.

Follow Heather Mongilio on Twitter: @HMongilio.

Heather Mongilio is the health and Fort Detrick reporter for the Frederick News-Post. She can be reached at hmongilio@newspost.com.

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