“There’s nothing worse than tooth pain,” said Alan McCoy, who has worked with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s mobile dental clinic throughout the state for the last three years.
Wanda Buff of Forsyth agrees that dental pain makes people miserable and impacts everything in their lives. Buff works with the Circle of Care, which tries to meet many needs of the people in Monroe County, and she is also an active member of First Baptist Church Forsyth. Her contacts with people at Circle of Care, particularly the Thrift Store, made her aware that there were many people in the community suffering with dental issues who don’t have insurance or financial resources for care.
Buff said the Centennial Baptist Association worked with First Baptist Forsyth about five years ago to bring the mobile dental clinic to Forsyth and the church’s Mission Committee began the process of bringing it back in about March. On its recent visit to Forsyth it served 25-30 people.
Those people left with praise for the dentists who volunteered their time to help them and for all of the other people who worked to make their access to the dental clinic possible. The clinic in Forsyth focused on tooth extractions and fillings because those procedures let it provide the most beneficial services to the most people in the time available.
Patients were screened on the day before to keep the clinic running as smoothly and quickly as possible. Reportedly the clinics have performed more than 20,000 procedures in the last three years.
The mobile dental clinic seeks the services of local dentists. Dr. Clell Morris of Forsyth donated his skills. Dr. Deck Neisler also volunteered in Forsyth. Neisler’s dental practice is in Athens, but he has deep roots in Monroe County, where his father served as veterinarian for many years.
Neisler said he was baptized and married at First Baptist Forsyth, with his father-in-law, long time pastor and dean at Tift College I.W. Bowen, performing the wedding ceremony. He has many stories to share about growing up as the son of the local veterinarian.
Local dentists Dr. Deena Holliman Smith and Dr. Stan Hickman had previous commitments that kept them from working at the clinic but donated dental supplies.
There were also two dental hygienists volunteering their services, including Myra Gill, who has worked with the mobile dental clinic for about 12 years. John Paul Hasik was the driver for the big dental bus, but he also greeted each patient and helped the other volunteers in various ways.
It truly took a team to coordinate the mobile dental clinic’s visit, and Kim Pitman of First Baptist took the lead in making sure everything was covered. Local nurses volunteered to check blood pressure before the patients saw the dentist. Volunteers helped complete all of the required paperwork before and after the visit, from screenings to follow-ups, and they were ready with words of encouragement or to hold a patient’s hand if needed.
There were signs and greeters directing patients and a comfortable place inside the church for them to wait. Members of the Mission Committee provided breakfast and lunch for the volunteers.
The mobile dental clinic bus is a fully self-contained dentist’s office with three chairs. It has everything needed for cleanings to surgical procedures.
“It is a great, great ministry patterned after the life of Jesus. He ministered wherever he went,” said McCoy. “We receive more blessings than we give. We are God’s hands and feet.”
He said the mobile dental clinic served Ukrainian refugees sponsored by a Russian church at First Baptist Lawrenceville in August. Gill also helped in that ministry. They said it was a good feeling to serve where they saw a great need both for dental health and spiritual support.
McCoy said another ministry where they feel especially needed is to migrant farm workers. When the dental mobile clinic serves farm workers, it usually sets up in the community for a week. McCoy said he enjoys meeting the people the ministry serves all over the state.
Gill said the mobile dental clinic ministry has been helping people for about 25 years, continuing to grow over the years. She said it got started when a doctor in Warner Robins, who came to the U.S. from Cuba as a child, saw the need. Gill recently moved from Columbus to Florida but continues to work with the Georgia ministry because of the blessings she sees.
McCoy said the mobile dental clinic will come to any community where a church sponsor requests it, but weeks in 2023 are already filling up. He said the clinic is still catching up from its limited activity during the pandemic.
Buff said there is always a need for dental care, but with the rising cost of living dental care is way down the list for people who don’t have dental insurance or money for other than necessities.
“They come [seeking help from Circle of Care] when they’re miserable,” she said. “I’m excited we could get help.”
She said several local dentists work with Circle of Care to provide help for those in need with the resources Circle of Care has. One of the patients the mobile dental clinic was able to serve is a favorite volunteer at the Thrift Store.
Buff noted that Circle of Care always welcomes volunteers at the Thrift Store, even for a couple of hours per week. People are needed to help organize donations and display them in the areas for purchase and are welcome to work in whichever area catches their interest, from kitchen items to clothing or furniture. All purchases from Circle of Care go toward helping local individuals.
First Baptist of Forsyth hopes to bring the mobile dental clinic back next year. McCoy said it is usually easier to plan for a second visit after getting everything in place for the first one. A sampling of patients who benefited from the clinic’s 2022 visit gave it top reviews.
Where do the two Georgia Baptist Mission Board mobile dental clinic buses go at the end of the day when they finish a mission? They are kept at Camp Kaleo, which is owned by the Mission Board, in southern Monroe County, where a shelter has been built for them. McCoy said the central location makes it a good starting point for serving the whole state.