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Changing lives one smile at a time

If you unlock your phone, click on the photos app and scroll through the memories, chances are you'll find at least one "selfie." Maybe it's a picture of you and friends after a day at the beach. Or perhaps you've photographed yourself because yo...

If you unlock your phone, click on the photos app and scroll through the memories, chances are you’ll find at least one “selfie.” Maybe it’s a picture of you and friends after a day at the beach. Or perhaps you’ve photographed yourself because you “woke up like this.” Either way, spread across your face is a warm smile.

Now what if I told you some people don’t want their picture taken because they don’t feel comfortable showing their smile. Crooked, broken, stained and missing teeth plague their mouths. They can no longer express their happiness with a smile from ear to ear.

For many of these people, they have not received dental work for years due to financial reasons, location, or neglect. This is where the Minnesota Mission of Mercy steps in.

The Minnesota Mission of Mercy (MnMOM) is a large-scale dental clinic where dental treatment is provided at no cost. It is held every year at a location in Minnesota and this year it was held in Duluth at the DECC. This is where I come into play.

I was relaxing on the couch at home one day, when my dad called out and asked me if I wanted to volunteer for Mission of Mercy. At the time, I had no idea what Mission of Mercy was. My dad gave me a brief explanation, and I thought about it for a moment, shrugged, and said why not. After all, it would be a great opportunity to serve my community, and it would give me chance to see how dentistry can change lives.

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For those who don’t know, I come from a family of dentists. My great-grandfather Elmer “Tom” Tomhave originally came to Cloquet to fill a dental position. His son Jack grew up, followed his father’s footsteps, and became the town’s dentist. Later on, Jack’s two sons, Jim and Steve, took to dentistry as well. If you were keeping track, that would mean I’d be the fourth generation dentist. However, I don’t know if I want to be a dentist just yet. This is why getting involved in projects like the Minnesota Mission of Mercy is a good idea for me. By volunteering for Mission of Mercy, hopefully I would get a better taste of dentistry.

Suddenly, it was the day to step up and volunteer. I was signed up to help on Saturday, July 18, the second day of the two-day-long clinic. Thankfully, I was signed up for the afternoon shift - rather than the morning shift which would have required me to wake up in the early hours of the morning.

I arrived to the clinic not knowing what to expect. I imagined myself in a new pair of scrubs, extracting teeth or saving a damaged tooth. Maybe I would be the guy who hands all the tools to the dentist, “scalpel…. pliers… wrench… buzzsaw.” These grand visions were soon shattered though.

I was handed a blue T-shirt and a name tag, and told to head over to orientation. There, they told me I was an “escort”; I was to make sure no one was walking around aimlessly by themselves.  

All of us volunteers were then shepherded down to the main floor where all the action was happening. I was stationed at the exit of the main floor. My job was to bring people who just completed a procedure back to the start of the whole event because only one phase of treatment, such as a couple fillings, could be done per patient. If a patient had more work needed, perhaps a cleaning, he or she would have to go back to the start of the clinic.

So, I helped people get back to the start, and in doing so I saw and heard first-hand the good that was being done. The first patient I helped was a middle-aged woman in a wheelchair. She had some serious work done, and was holding her hand to her jaw in pain. I asked her where she was from, and with a mouth stuffed full of gauze, she mumbled, “St. Paul.”

Throughout the day, I discovered that many people had traveled great distances to receive the free dental care. These people were so determined to get their dental work done. Some had even camped out overnight to make sure they would get a good spot in line.

At the start of the day I was a little bored with my job, but I warmed up to it. The really sweet thing was I got to see how grateful these people were. As I stood at the exit, I saw what dentistry is all about: people came into the clinic with frowns and gloomy faces, but came out with happiness and wide smiles.

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Lucas Tomhave is a summer intern for the Pine Journal. If you have any questions, comments, or ideas for him, he may be reached at ltomhave@pinejournal.com or 218-879-1950

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