PICAYUNE, Miss. (WLOX) – Health is essential to most people’s existence, but finding health care can be non-existent if you can’t afford it.
According to data from the US Census Bureau, up to 18% of people under age 65 in southern Mississippi do not have health insurance. Due to the lack of health insurance in the area, Manna Ministries is free for those without health insurance to meet the needs of others.
Friday the clinic is packed for its free tooth extraction day. The highly anticipated day is when a dentist volunteers once a month to remove patients’ teeth.
Executive Director Jameye Martin said they are trying to help as many people as possible, especially as serious medical conditions are on the rise in the area.
“We are going to start screening for oral cancer, which is on the rise. A lot of people in our area use tobacco products and it’s not just about smoking. There’s dipping and chewing and that kind of stuff,” Martin said.
However, another reason why it is crowded is that most locals depend on the clinic due to a lack of health insurance.
Martin said most people don’t because the only industry in the area is systems like education, health care and municipal government.
“If you’re not part of a big company, you just can’t afford health insurance, let alone dental care. Patients are extremely grateful, kind and always say thank you,” Martin said.
Kristen Caulfield has been a patient at the clinic for more than two years after hearing about it from her husband.
She said she suffered from ulcerative colitis, a condition that made her constantly vomit, resulting in rotting teeth.
Caulfield’s husband is recovering from an accident that leaves her the only provider with little help.
She said that without Manna Ministries she would have paid more since most of her teeth have to be removed.
“It’s a blessing, really. I can’t afford $270. It’s the best place. I have never found a place as good as them. I recommend people here if they don’t have health insurance and need to have their teeth pulled,” Caulfield said.
Earlier this month, the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation awarded a $150,000 grant to Manna Ministries.
Now the clinic can add services such as fillings, a denture lab, and even a dental hygienist.
In addition to his private practice, Dr. Jason Estep volunteers at the clinic to remove teeth once a month.
He explained that the grant to expand services came just in time because decaying teeth can eventually affect overall health.
“We need healthy teeth and gums to be able to speak, talk and chew. We also have links between diseases of the mouth related to diseases of our general health. We like to make sure that not only are we dentally healthy, but that we can also contribute to our overall health,” Estep said.
Martin said the clinic is thrilled that 350 of its dental patients are getting more care and less pain.
“If the lord puts you in the community, then it’s our people to take care of and that’s what we’re trying to provide.”
Manna Ministries said it needed more dental assistants and volunteer dentists to help reduce its month-long waiting list.
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