Virginia Dental Association/Missions of Mercy
Purpose Prize Fellow 2008
Providing free dental care to the underinsured, uninsured and the working poor.
In 1996, Terry Dickinson decided he needed to leave his successful private dental clinic because staying “would not fill my soul for the rest of my life.” In 1999, he was offered the opportunity to run the Virginia Dental Association. He accepted the job, and was immediately struck by the appalling condition of dental care in rural and impoverished Virginia communities. In 2000, at age 58, Dickinson launched the Missions of Mercy (MOM) Project under the auspices of the Virginia Dental Association Foundation, the first mobile oral health care outreach program of its kind in the state. Volunteer dentists and advanced dental students create a “service site” for two to six days in under-served areas, treating the working poor, elderly, disabled and uninsured residents. Since July of 2000, MOM has provided 28,423 Virginia MOM patients more than $13.2 million worth of free dental care. Ten other states have copied the model, serving more than 67,000 patients with $27 million in free care, and two more states plan new programs in 2009. “I am often asked about how much money I have ‘lost’ by taking this job. My answer is – and always will be – ‘It isn’t what I lost by leaving, but rather what I would have lost if I had stayed.'”