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Lisa Morrow
credit: Jordan Ensminger

It’s not because she isn’t happy.

The 45-year-old woman has severe dental problems, but being unemployed and without medical or dental insurance, her best option is not to show her teeth.

In the meantime, she endures agonizing pain and depression.

“My grandkids, they’ll be like, ‘Grandma, what happened to your teeth? What’s wrong with your mouth?’ It really is embarrassing. For two years, I wouldn’t even come out of the house,” Morrow said, wiping away tears.

“My teeth have been messed up for 15 years. People treat you like you’re not human.”

Morrow will be among the hundreds of people at State Fair Park later this month seeking free medical treatment from Remote Area Medical Oklahoma. The Aug. 25-26 event provides limited dental and vision care, along with some medical and women’s health care services. Around 2,000 people are expected.

No appointments are necessary, and individuals only need to bring and a list of medications they take, said Tres Savage, RAM Oklahoma president.

Dental care

The Tennessee-based RAM delivers medical care to remote areas worldwide, including many rural and underserved areas in North America.

For the Oklahoma City event — only RAM Oklahoma’s second such clinic, the first being in 2010 — the nonprofit still needs donations of money and bottled water. Also needed are additional volunteers in the dental and vision fields: dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, ophthalmologists, opticians and optometrists.

RAM Oklahoma’s total budget is about $22,000.

The goal, Savage said, is not only to provide free care to those in immediate need, but also to connect patients with follow-up and continuing-care resources.

Around 90 percent of those who showed up at the 2010 event wanted dental care, he said.

RAM Oklahoma in 2010

“A lot of people show up because they’re in pain,” Savage said. “That’s sort of the way things work in this country, from a patient perspective.”

Terrisa Singleton, foundation manager for Delta Dental of Oklahoma — one of the event’s major sponsors — said while many Oklahoma children are covered by SoonerCare, the state’s Medicaid program, adults without dental insurance don’t have such a safety net.

Nearly half of all adult Oklahomans don’t have dental insurance, she said. Moreover, the state ranks near the bottom for patients visiting a dentist, regardless of their insurance situation.

“A lot of people put that priority low in the list as they try to meet other needs in this economy,” Singleton
said. “Lack of education [about dental hygiene and checkups] is a big
part of it, but I think probably the No. 1 reason people are in pain and
don’t take care of it in this state is an economic issue.”

Barry
Amos, who heads the RAM Oklahoma dental committee, said the group needs
around 50 dental volunteers for each day of the clinic. The main
procedures that dentists will be able to perform are extractions, basic
cleaning and restorative work, such as fillings.

“We need as many dentists as we can,” he said. “It’s hard to volunteer from 6 in the morning to 6 at night.”

Tres Savage
credit: Jordan Ensminger

A desperate need

Thom
Dandridge, manager for RAM’s Reach Across America program, is in charge
of the organization’s large tractor-trailer filled with equipment to
make eyeglasses. He has witnessed firsthand the power of RAM’s vision
care, from those who have suffered major eye damage in natural disasters
to a woman about to lose her job because her glasses had broken and she
couldn’t see without them.

“That’s
why it’s so important vision care is out there: You change a person’s
life in the matter of a few hours,” Dandridge said. “You open up a whole
new world for them because they’ve never been able to see or, if they
saw at one time, a world they’ve missed since then.”

Dr.
Larry Kincheloe, an OB-GYN at Integris Family Care Central, heads up
the event’s medical arm. He said his team will offer coupons for
mammograms, Pap testing, sexually transmitted disease testing, pregnancy testing and some 

long-term contraception.

The
last event saw around 200 women treated, Kincheloe said, most of whom
were mothers bringing their daughters in for their first checkup.

“Most
of the people we saw last year had jobs, but didn’t have insurance,” he
said. “If you’re a waitress at your local diner, you don’t have an
extra $1,200 a month for insurance for a family of four.”


‘Blast of reality’

Savage said it’s
likely people may line up the night before the clinic in hopes of being
among the first patients. He said it’s also likely that some people may
have to be turned away because of overwhelming demand.

Many people, he said,
often don’t see how much of a desperate need exists for such services.
He said clinics such as RAM’s offer “a big blast of reality” for
students and medical professionals who perhaps haven’t been exposed to
an open system of care.

Limited access is a reality for Morrow.

RAM Oklahoma in 2010

Until
a few weeks ago, when she saw a dentist at a community health center,
her only interaction with medical professionals about her teeth was the
occasional emergency room visit, when she could no longer stand the
pain.

Morrow said she
hopes to have her teeth fixed through a combination of both the RAM
event and follow-up visits at the community health center.

After
that, her goal is simple. “All I want to do is get my teeth fixed and
take a picture with my grandbabies and smile — look in the mirror just
once in my life and be able to smile,” she said.

“When I get my teeth fixed, I’m going to smile and wave like I’m the first lady. I’m going to go to sleep smiling.”

For more information or to volunteer, visit ramok.org.

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