Hygienist Samantha Gray cleans the teeth of a patient aboard a mobile dental clinic in Macon.
By ROGER ALFORD
The Christian Index
MACON, Ga. – Dental patients are captive audiences with their mouths propped open and little else to do but listen.
A group of evangelistic-minded dentists and hygienists who provide free dental care through Georgia’s Baptist Mobile Health Ministry are capitalizing on that to talk to their patients about spiritual matters.
The dental ministry has had a huge impact across Georgia, have performed more than 20,000 dental procedures in the past three years alone. More than 200 of those patients made professions of faith while visiting the rolling clinics.
That’s according to a compilation of statistics from the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation and the Baptist Mobile Health Ministry, which operates two fully equipped dental clinics built on the chassis of full-size recreational vehicles.
Typically, the rolling clinics limit procedures to extractions and fillings so that they can help as many people as possible as quickly as possible. However, cleanings also are offered in some locations.
Dentists and hygienists volunteer their time aboard the mobile clinics, working on days off from their own practices.
Dr. Tommy Farr of Thomaston, Ga., said serving as a volunteer dentist is a simple way to follow the biblical admonition to love thy neighbor.
“It’s a rewarding thing,” he said in a promotion video prepared by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “It’s just us giving of the talents the Lord gave us to start with.”
Churches around the state schedule the mobile clinics to treat residents in the communities they serve. The patients don’t have dental insurance and can’t otherwise afford dental care.
“Often, they’re in severe pain and have been for quite some time,” said Ted Kandler, who oversees the Baptist Mobile ministry. “What we concentrate on is emergency dentistry, on getting people out of pain.”
Though they don’t have steeples or stained-glass windows, the mobile dental clinics tend to be churches on wheels. The volunteer dentists and hygienists aren’t shy about praying and sharing the share the gospel.
At a stop earlier this month in Lawrenceville, Ga., Kandler said 18 professions of faith were reported.
The dental ministry reported 73 professions of faith in 2018, 87 in 2019 and 20 last year despite a reduced schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Baptist Mobile Health has been effective for two major reasons,” said Buck Burch, a missions catalyst for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “It provides a missional outlet for Christians in the medical field to pursue lostness through meeting human needs, and it gives churches a means for outreach into places it might otherwise never be able to go.”
Churches can partner with the Baptist Mobile ministry to set up a week’s worth of dental appointments in targeted locations and potentially reach hundreds of people without a church home.
“What the dental care unit allows is a unique opportunity to pair specialized medical care with the loving arms of a local church into an area that otherwise might never be reached with the gospel,” Burch said.
Kandler, who plans to retire at the end of the year, said Georgia churches are always looking for additional dentists and hygienists to serve in the ministry.
“Once a dentist has served, 99 percent of the time they will serve again,” Kandler said. “That’s because they find it so rewarding.”
Steve Laughman, associational mission strategist in the Centennial Baptist Association, said free dentistry easily lends itself to sharing the gospel.
“They ask the question: Why do you do this?’” Laughman said. “And we get to tell them why we do this – because Jesus loves them and so do we.”