People "champing at the bit" with toothaches can usually go see their dentist.

But many homebound Utahns have learned to just "grin and bear" the pain, with no way to make it to the dental chair.No longer.

Thanks to a new program, sponsored by the Community Services Council and the Utah Dental Association, such patients can renew their faith in the tooth fairy.

Many dentists now make house calls.

The new Dental House Call Project sends a dentist to the bedsides of homebound individuals of any age or income. Patients' payments are determined by their income; they're charged on a sliding fee scale.

How, you ask, can comprehensive treatment come from a little black bag?

It can't.

So, participating dentists are toting much more.

With them goes a fully equipped mobile dental chair, complete with a lab, X-ray equipment and supplies.

"State-of-the-art technology has unshackled the traditional dental setting," said Florence Leonard, program coordinator. "The program is a return to yesteryear when health providers came to you!

"It's a revolutionary old-fashioned idea that's come of age."

Leonard said the program was initiated because health professionals identified hundreds of homebound people who couldn't get dental care.

One woman, bound to her home by illness, hasn't seen a dentist in 13 years.

The Community Services Council has learned of others also in desperate need of care.

"Our philosophy is that if you have good teeth, you can eat properly," Leonard emphasized. "Good nutrition means good health. This program could improve the quality of life for hundreds of people along the Wasatch Front this year."

The project, including the portable equipment, was made possible through a $56,166 grant from FHP Foundation to provide previously unavailable dental care to homebound seniors.

The program's service area is Utah, Davis, Salt Lake and Weber Counties, which contain approximately 80 percent of Utah's population over 60 years of age.

The program's motto: "If you can't come to us, we'll come to you."

Leonard said 15 Utahns have already signed up to have their teeth cleaned, filled, capped or realigned.

Those interested in the program may call Dental House at 479-7879 in Ogden or 486-2136 in Salt Lake City.

Dentists meet in S.L.

Thousands of Utah dentists gathered in the Salt Palace Wednesday for the Utah Dental Association Winter Annual Meeting. The meeting, to continue through Friday, is featuring guest speakers from around the United States. Topics will range from bulimia to aesthetics to emergency medicine.