Two dental clinics built by disaster response and humanitarian aid organization AmeriCares are restoring access to care for thousands of survivors for the first time since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The clinics recently opened in Minamisanriku, where the dual disasters wiped out 95 percent of the coastal town's infrastructure, including all six dental care facilities. AmeriCares partnered with the Miyagi Dental Association to build the clinics and worked closely with the Miyagi Prefectural government to develop the project.

"These new clinics are serving one of the most devastated towns in the whole Tohoku region, and a population greatly in need of dental care," Ella Gudwin, AmeriCares vice president of emergency response, said. "With people dislocated, living in shelters, and many without access to running water for months, daily oral hygiene routines fell by the wayside. For the large elderly population with a greater prevalence of tooth decay and related complications, this began to present a health risk. We did hear of some survivors developing serious abscesses which can be life threatening if not treated."

Funded by $400,000 in AmeriCares grants, the new transitional clinics are expected to operate for up to 10 years, serving a population of 10,000. The husband and wife team who run the clinic located in the Shizugawa area survived the tsunami, but lost their practice and their home. They lived out of their car for three weeks with little food and no heat, even as snow fell in the area. Like many dentists in the region, they initially feared having to relocate to find work. With the opening of the new clinics, they can stay close to their home community to help restore dental health services.

AmeriCares immediately rushed aid to Japan in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, including an airlift of more than $525,000 worth of medicines and medical supplies. Last summer, AmeriCares opened an office in Sendai to oversee the distribution of $8 million in aid. The organization plans to stay in Japan for up to three years, revitalizing and expanding health care services for survivors.

AmeriCares is a nonprofit global health and disaster relief organization which delivers medicines, medical supplies and aid to people in need around the world and across the United States. Since it was established in 1982, AmeriCares has distributed more than $10 billion in humanitarian aid to 147 countries.

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