The two days of free dental work hosted at Arkansas State University’s Convocations Center provided more than $1.33 million in X-rays, extractions, fillings, partial dentures and more – one of the most sweeping displays of dental charity in state history.
“For two days of work, it was the largest amount of free dental work ever done in the United States,” said Dr. Terry Fiddler, chairman of the Arkansas Mission of Mercy, in which 113 dentists donated their time and talents to serve 2,223 patients April 26 and 27 in Jonesboro.
The cost of the charitable work was borne by Delta Dental and Wal-Mart, not to mention the dentists, who came from around the state, and the scores of local volunteers who assisted and helped organize the event.
“The closest event like it that we know of was a two-day event in Pensacola,” he said. “They did a little less than $1.2 million worth of work, but they had 200 dentists. We had 113 do almost $1.35 million. That’s working your tail off.”
ArMoM hosts an event in an Arkansas city each year, including Springdale, Little Rock and Monticello. Fiddler said a few contributing factors have made the turnout abnormally large in Jonesboro. The last time it was held here, it brought the largest number of patients to an ArMoM event, Fiddler said. This one created the largest amount of dental work.
“Where it lies – close to three other states – attracts people from beyond Arkansas borders,” he said. “We had people from five states plus Arkansas.”
He said the Convocation Center provides the perfect layout and resources for such an event. But he also praised Jonesboro’s community commitment.
“It’s not only the facility; it’s the facilitators,” Fiddler said. “They’re just exceptional to work with. And Arkansas State paid for the use of the Convocation Center. You can’t ask for any better hosts. It’s that simple.”
Brad Pietz, who manages the Convocations Center, said hundreds of volunteers were involved, from electricians to plumbers to forklift drivers.
“Not just dental volunteers,” he said, “but people who helped move and set things up. It was something the university agreed to provide because it is for the greater good of the community.”
While the dentists and their travel parties created more than $250,000 in economic impact in Jonesboro in one week, Fiddler said they received discounts by hoteliers and other businesses all over the city. “So the business community in Jonesboro should be congratulated too,” he said.
Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin, who served 21 years on the Delta Dental Board of Trustees, has been the biggest advocate of bringing ArMoM to the northeastern corner of the state.
“He exerts his influence in getting this in Jonesboro,” Delta Dental Foundation executive director Weldon Johnson said of the mayor. “He has quite a way of marketing Jonesboro, and he has helped raise awareness of oral health not just in Jonesboro but in the delta around it.” Perrin, who knows many of the doctors who lead the ArMom mission from his days on the Delta Dental board, also persuaded the group to provide some free dental hygiene supplies for the region’s homeless population.
Fiddler said because of the large turnout in Jonesboro and the great assistance of the volunteer community, ArMoM likely will return sooner than the normal five-year rotation.
“We plan to be here every five years,” Fiddler said. “But I’d say we’re looking at four, maybe three, right now.”
Press Release – Bill Campbell, City of Jonesboro
Photos by Phillip DeClerk