Ask A Researcher

July 2022

Mission of Mercy: Giving hope through a smile.

Aastha Bhandari and Debarati Kole, Graduate Research Assistants
Dr. Nancy Hodur,Director, Center for Social Research at NDSU

Aastha Bhandari is a Graduate Research Assistant at the Center for Social Research at North Dakota State University (NDSU). Aastha is graduating in August, 2022 with MS in Business and Data Analytics from NDSU. Prior to this, she also graduated with MS in Emergency Management from NDSU. Her interests include data analysis, prediction modeling, visualization and reporting, and designing data driven solutions to complex social and organizational problems.
Debarati Kole is a Graduate Research Assistant at the Center for Social Research at North Dakota State University (NDSU). Debarati will graduate with a Sociology M.S. degree from NDSU on August 5, 2022, and continue further studies in the NDSU Developmental Science Ph.D. program from Fall 2022. Debarati is interested in working on the importance of social connection on people’s mental health issues, health promotion among elderly minorities, and health promotion through community development, during her Ph.D. studies.
Dr. Nancy Hodur is the director of the Center for Social Research at NDSU and has over 25 years of professional experience in applied research, public policy, and outreach education.

Mission of Mercy, North Dakota

Mission of Mercy, North Dakota brings together volunteers and donors to events that provide free of charge dental care, to adults and children of all ages experiencing barriers to oral health care. Mission of Mercy event goals are to help bridge the gap and provide much needed oral health care for those that do not have access to adequate dental care.

The most recent event was hosted on October 1-2, 2021, in Bismarck, North Dakota. The Bismarck Civic Center was transformed into a 40-chair dental clinic that provided urgently needed care to patients in the region. The event was made possible by the hundreds of volunteers, such as dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, oral surgeons, pharmacists, students, among many other volunteers, that organized the event and provided much needed dental care. The event was sponsored by the North Dakota Dental Association (NDDA), North Dakota Dental Foundation (NDDF), and by many other generous donors (see the Mission of Mercy website for more information on volunteers and donors -

Event survey details

Over the course of the two-day event, 448 volunteers treated over 670 patients. At the event, patients were given a survey to complete, asking for their responses to questions about their oral health care. Of the 670 patients, 452 people participated in the event survey. The following reflects the results of the October 2021 event survey.

While most participants were from the local area and traveled 30 minutes or less to the event (79%), 14 percent of participants traveled 31 minutes to 2 hours, and 8 percent traveled more than 2 hours to get to the event to receive dental care. Many participants had long delayed dental care needs. About one-third of participants (35%) reported it had been 3 or more years since their last dental visit, one-third of participants’ last dental visit was 1-2 years prior (33%), and one-third of participants’ last dental visit was less than 1 year before (33%). Figure 1 shows distribution of participants who indicated having dental pain. Nearly half of participants were experiencing dental pain. Of those participants experiencing dental pain, 33 percent had experienced it for 4 months or longer, 25 percent had endured the pain for 2 weeks to 1 month, and another 25 percent were experiencing pain occasionally. The data shows that a large number of people waited for months to receive dental treatment despite experiencing pain for a prolonged period.

Figure 2 depicts the length of time since participants had their teeth cleaned. Among all the participants, approximately half had their teeth cleaned two years ago or less (54%). However, 12 percent had not had their teeth cleaned for 10 years or longer, 15 percent said it had been five to nine years, and 17 percent said it had been three to four years since they had their teeth cleaned. A large majority of those attending the Mission of Mercy event had not had access to one of the most basic oral health care procedures, regular teeth cleaning.

Understanding the barriers behind not getting dental care is key to help bridge the gap and provide much needed oral health care to those who do not receive care on a regular basis. Figure 3 shows the barriers impacting participants. Lack of insurance and affordability were most frequently cited as the reason for not getting needed dental care. Three-fourths of participants indicated they did not have insurance and did not think they could afford treatment (74%) and 18 percent said they could not find a dentist that would accept a payment plan. These barriers also align with the percentage of participants that indicated they did not have third party dental insurance (70%). A large majority of participants also indicated that they don’t have a Dental Home for follow up care (70%).

Another important component to events such as Mission of Mercy is information sharing. Getting the event information out into the regional communities is vital to help those with dental care needs. When asked about how they heard about the event, half of the participants indicated that they heard from friends and family and one-third indicated they heard through social media (52% and 34%, respectively) (Figure 4). The distribution of information media in Figure 4 shows that most of the people are deviating from traditional sources like social agency, newspaper or flyers, to more digital sources like social media.

Key Outcomes

Overall, the Mission of Mercy event was beneficial for the 670 people who were seeking some form of dental treatment. The team of volunteers preformed a wide variety of procedures. X-Rays, extractions, fillings, and cleanings were the most frequently preformed procedures. Detailed procedures included: 874 X-Rays, 753 extractions, 781 fillings, and 369 composites. In addition to more routine procedures like cleanings and fluoride varnish, volunteers also preformed 35 root canals and made 35 interim partial dentures. The total value of all the services provided over the course of the two-day event was $556,480.

Many patients were suffering from dental pain and had waited months for the treatment. The lack of third-party dental coverage and affordability were the most frequently cited barrier to dental care. People who lived closer to the event benefitted the most as the event was easily accessible to the local people of Bismarck. Close-knit social circles like friends and family, and social media platforms were the most popular sources for event information. Mission of Mercy events can utilize these communication channels to help people who are in need easily access this information.

Mission of Mercy events goal is to help bridge the gap and provide much needed oral health care for those that do not have access to adequate dental care. For two days the Bismarck Civic Center was transformed, and 670 individuals received much needed dental treatment. The need for oral health care and dental services is apparent in the number of patients treated and the variety of procedures performed over the course of the event.

Events like this are important as they provide valuable services to help meet oral health needs in the region. Mission of Mercy events are made possible by not only the hundreds of volunteers that offer their services, but also by the generous donors that provide financial support for the effort. For more information about Mission of Mercy and complete event reporting see

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