SIU alums offer free dental care in Collinsville

By Scott Wuerz, Belleville News-Democrat

Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine alumni Darryll Beard and Randall Markarian are co-chairs for the Illinois State Dental Society Foundation’s Mission of Mercy.

They will host a free dental clinic July 15-16 at the Gateway Convention Center in Collinsville.

They expect to treat approximately 2,000 patients from Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa and Kentucky, and provide more than $1 million in free dental care. This will be the fourth mission in Illinois.

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Beard and Markarian are passionate about delivering this healthcare service, because so many don’t have access to dental care.

“These people have nowhere to turn and have significant unmet dental need,” Markarian said. “We provide a way for them to receive some dental care to get them on track.

“I am amazed at how appreciative these patients are at the care provided. Given the link between dental health and overall health, our hope is to get one person motivated enough to address their dental needs and have it positively impact their general health.”

Markarian finds the experience to be rewarding.

“I certainly have been surprised by how much patients are shocked by the level of care provided, and more importantly at the level of compassion shown,” Markarian said. “I have been fortunate to volunteer in the lab area where patients received ‘flippers’ (retainers with front teeth), and many left the area in tears of joy, because they had given up on being able to smile and show a full set of front teeth.

“I was completely unprepared for the level of happiness they exhibited. Many of us in the dental profession take for granted results like this as we see them regularly. We forget just how life changing it can be for someone that has forgone dental care for years or even decades.”

The free clinic costs approximately $120,000. Equipment and venue rental are the most expensive items in the budget. Donations from area churches, corporations, foundations, individuals and the dental community contribute the largest amount of funds.

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“Volunteers outside of dentistry are extremely important to the clinic’s success,” Beard said. “Approximately 600 of the necessary 1,000 volunteers are people outside of dentistry. Patient escorts, nurses, pharmacists and emergency medical technicians are all needed. Their help is vital to the mission’s success.”

Beard has participated in the previous three missions held in Bloomington, Grayslake and Peoria. “I recognized the need for such a clinic and lobbied to get a mission in our area,” he said. “I was quite happy when our area and venue were chosen for this mission.”

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