PROVO, Utah — It isn't just the people in third world countries who need help but those right here in Utah, says one of the founders of "Share A Smile."
That's why the group that includes dentists, an opthomologist, doctors and nurses, and assorted volunteers decided this year to help the Navajo Indians in Montezuma Creek, Utah.
Nearly 100 people took time off from work and their everyday lives during this past Utah Education Association (UEA) break to examine, treat and inoculate the 150 children enrolled in the Aneth Community School, as well as many of their parents and neighbors. They even landscaped the school. One group rebuilt a nearby home for a single mother.
"We were thinking we wanted to be closer to home," explained Eileen Bidstrup, a dental assistant at Dr. Eric Vogel's practice who helped Vogel found Share A Smile 10 years ago. "We wanted it to be more affordable so as to include more families."
Over the past decade, Share A Smile has traveled to places like Haiti, Bolivia, Russia, Mexico, China and Morocco to provide free dental work for poor people.
Every year, there are miracles and blessings that are almost a routine part of the journey, Bidstrup said.
"There's always problems, and we always deal with them. This year, we were all set to go to one part of the (Navajo) reservation when that fell through. At the last minute, we went to the other area instead.
"I've found it never ends up the way you expect. It's like Heavenly Father says, 'No. We'll do this instead.' We just go where he tells us to go," Bidstrup said. "A lot of prayers accompany this."
The decision to head to Aneth area proved very fortunate for at least one person, the principal of the school, Brenda Whitehorse.
She had an extremely sore throat that had been diagnosed as probable strep throat, but the antibiotics weren't working for her.
A doctor on the Share A Smile team examined her and found a large abscess that needed to be surgically removed.
"For her, we were certainly a blessing," Bidstrup said.
Others at the school received eye glasses from Dr. Scott Lohner — glasses he nearly left behind because the group had been told they weren't needed.
One dental technician made dentures for many of the adults, and another put on crowns. Five dentists examined the schoolchildren's teeth, taking X-rays, filling cavities, performing root canals. They saw all 150 children and treated everything they could in the four days they were in Montezuma Creek.
In addition, they trained the staff and the patients in good dental hygiene and brought kits stocked with toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant and soaps.
An Eagle Scout in Provo collected stuffed animals, knit hats and socks to add to the kits.
(Bidstrup said when they ask the children what they need, they always ask for socks.)
"There is a small medical and dental clinic there, but the population's needs overwhelm the facilities," Bidstrup said. "Plus, half of the children live so far away that they have to live at the school during the week. Their parents can't bring them in or come in themselves for care on a regular basis."
Share A Smile volunteers pay their own way to the area, and the annual triathlon held in August raises funds to help pay for supplies, plus Vogel Dental donates all money paid in the office for bleaches.
It generally costs around $12,000 for food, supplies and lodging.
Interested volunteers attach themselves to the effort and expand the possibilities, Bidstrup said.
American Fork dentist Michelle Jorgensen and her husband brought in a construction team to rebuild a family home.
Dental technician Greg Shelton and his son Haven, along with Peter Vogel, tore out sagebrush, felled trees and brought in dirt, rocks and plants to landscape the desert area around the school.
A plumber on the team fixed the broken sprinkler system, digging up more than 100 feet of old line before he could replace it.
Many volunteers came in families, so youngsters were put to work packing lunches and hauling off weeds.
"You work from 8:30 a.m. to about 5 p.m. every day," Bidstrup said. "This isn't a vacation."
But it's immensely rewarding work, she said.
The children who needed dental work were very brave and very curious about the procedures. "They did not cry. They were excited to see what we were all about," she said.
Share A Smile is a registered 501-C3 organization, so donations and contributions are tax-deductible. To learn more or to become involved see www.shareasmile.org/.