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Cali Owings, Published June 13 2013

Free dental care offered in Bemidji

BEMIDJI, Minn. – Erik Skatvold, a Moorhead dentist, will be just one of 195 dentists offering free dental care here this weekend.

More than 1,200 dentists, oral surgeons, hygienists and other volunteers will take over the Sanford Center today and Saturday in an effort to provide $1 million in dental care to patients who cannot afford it.

It’s part of Minnesota Mission of Mercy sponsored by the Minnesota Dental Association and the Minnesota Dental Foundation.

Services such as cleanings, fillings, root canals, and extractions will be provided at no cost to adults and children throughout the two-day event.

There’s such a need for dental care throughout northwestern Minnesota and even North Dakota that organizers anticipate patients will travel to Bemidji and wait in line overnight in hopes of being treated the next day.

A Mission of Mercy event last year in Mankato drew 2,062 patients. The first patient was in line for 32 hours before the clinic opened.

The two biggest barriers to dental care are the cost and location, said John Lueth, a Bemidji dentist and local chairman for Mission of Mercy.

He said Bemidji was chosen because it’s accessible to underserved communities throughout northwest Minnesota.

Mission of Mercy hopes to get the attention of state lawmakers and increase access to dental care.

“We want to raise awareness in our state of the tremendous need that is out there,” Skatvold said.