New Mexico’s biggest free dental clinic is scheduled this year for Farmington, Sept. 12-15. It’s called the Mission of Mercy, run by the New Mexico Dental Foundation, the charitable affiliate of the New Mexico Dental Association.
This will be the third such event in New Mexico; the first was in Albuquerque in October 2010, the second in Las Cruces in March 2012. The Foundation reports that the past two events served 3,722 patients provided more than $2.2 million in free dental treatment and involved 3,200 volunteers.
The outpouring of generosity, commendable though it is, is a drop in the bucket in meeting New Mexicans’ needs for dental care. For some, the problem is economic, for others it’s geography.
A recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts says New Mexico has the fourth worst dentist shortage in the country. The report found 24.2 percent of residents live in underserved areas, five counties do not have a single practicing dentist (Guadalupe, Harding, Hidalgo, Mora and Union), three counties (Catron, De Baca and Quay) have only one dentist in the county.
The report noted — in case we needed more bad news — that 45.5 percent of New Mexico dentists are older than 55, implying they may be approaching retirement.