Many of Salt Lake's homeless are now all smiles after meeting "Dr. Ralph."
Ralph Montgomery, a Murray dentist on his way to the remote Philippine island of Palawan, stopped off at the St. Vincent De Paul Center for what he termed a "trial run."Montgomery and his colleagues are at the center through Friday working out the bugs of a new custom-built, 30-foot mobile dental clinic that will be presented to the Palawan Dental Society Jan. 16.
The $500,000 educational vehicle is a gift from Rotary International. It is equipped with two built-in dental chairs and support units, X-ray, refrigerators and medical examination table.
Once the self-contained vehicle arrives in the Philippines, the comprehensive project will work like this: American dentists will contribute 30 days every other month on Palawan, working side-by-side with native dentists who will be trained in modern techniques and the use of X-ray equipment. The local dentists will receive additional instruction from a video dental correspondence-type program developed by Loma Linda School of Dental Medicine under Montgomery's direction.
During the Americans' off-months, the participating Palawan dentists can use the clinic to treat their own patients - as long as 50 percent of their time is spent serving the poor.
The idea for the model clinic was conceived by Montgomery after he had practiced on Palawan as a Rotary Club volunteer for two 30-day time periods in 1985 and 1987. The island is one of the least-developed and poorest provinces in the Philippines.
"I pulled more teeth in a month in Palawan than I'd extracted in some 32 years in the Air Force and in private practice," he said.
But he couldn't solve the island's dental problems alone.
Thus, the idea of the mobile van emerged - an idea that gained immediate financial support from Rotary International.
"It's a dream come true," said Montgomery, who this week put the clinic to its first official test. It paid off.
"We found out there are things we didn't have, and that certain equipment isn't functioning the way it should," Montgomery said. "It's a good thing we found these little things here instead of in Palawan. We couldn't go downtown there and find what we need."
The trial run also benefited dozens of homeless who received free and essential dental care, including new silver fillings and bonded composites. "One man was tickled to death that he could walk out and be able to smile again," Montgomery said. The homeless, like the Filipinos, have reduced self-esteem when their teeth are deteriorating.
To provide continual help to the homeless, Montgomery donated equipment, including an X-ray machine and a sterilizer, that are too heavy and large for the mobile unit.
His hope is that a local Rotary Club will provide funding to upgrade the center's clinic.