Smiling brightly

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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Just before the start of providing free dental services to people who are St. Patrick Center clients, volunteers from Smile Generation's St. Louis offices gathered outside the Pacific Dental Services Foundation Mobile Dental Clinic RV for a last-minute meeting to go over procedures and details for the day.

At the conclusion, they huddled and shouted, "We serve," then went to their positions, like a sports team ready to play a game. Doctors, nurses, X-ray techs and a hygienist awaited patients, while receptionists awaited people to sign in.

"Are you ready?" a volunteered asked Patient Zero.

"Uh, I don't know," he responded with faux trepidation before breaking into a smile — the goal of the day: "Mobile dentistry you can smile about," as stated on the RV wrap.

For the next seven hours on April 18 and for seven more the next day, the volunteers delivered needed dental services for people without the means to get it.

The free dental care "means the world to them" said Delnita McGhaw, the intake receptionist at St. Patrick Center's Welcome Center, a former client herself and a success story. "Not having insurance and being in a situation where you neglect your teeth and your hygiene, this is something that's needed in the community.

"If you're taking care of your hygiene, you feel better about yourself. It makes you feel better and be better."

Set up near St. Patrick Center's loading dock on Hadley Street Downtown, the mobile dentistry clinic operated similarly to a regular dentist office, with a reception and waiting area, X-ray and dental chairs, but there was an important distinction — part of it was outside, under a canopy for registration and an RV awning for X-ray, tooth extractions and teeth cleaning.

"We have enough to do what we need to do," said Dr. Andrea Armstrong, of Chesterfield Smiles Dentistry. She specialized in tooth extractions for the mobile clinic "It's a pretty good setup."

Though quarters were tight, the inside of the RV was outfitted similarly to a regular dentist office. In the RV, Dr. Adam Battaglia of Water Tower Dental Group and Orthodontics handled same-day crowns, with a machine that manufactures crowns on the spot. Crowns often are a multiple-visit procedure.

"It's pretty tough to find an office that does dental crowns in the office, much less a mobile one," Dr. Battaglia said. "This way, we can numb them once and they can leave (with a crown); no temporaries."

Significantly, on this day, there would be no multiple visits for people who have to scramble for a place to sleep each night never mind making it to one dental appointment, or affording it either.

"Honestly, dental work is expensive, and a lot of people don't have access to it," Dr. Armstrong said. "It's easy to let oral health go."

For the volunteers, the service day was a chance to give back, and for Dr. Battaglia, who attended Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine in nearby Alton, Ill., it also was a nod to his Catholic upbringing. He volunteered at a PDS Foundation event last year in Arizona, then after returning to the area — Waterloo, Ill. — he signed up for this one.

"I'm blessed to practice dentistry," said Dr. Battaglia, who graduated from St. Pius X High School in his native Albuquerque, N.M. "This is an opportunity to help people."

Patients among the St. Patrick Center clients appreciated the service.

"I haven't been to a dentist in a long time," said Penny Davis, who summed up the visit as "great." 

Mobile dentistry

This was the second visit for Pacific Dental Services Foundation to St. Patrick Center; the first was two years ago. Operating from a base in California, PDS Foundation's dental RV mostly travels the West Coast setting up mobile clinics and service events, though it also ventures inland for events similar to St. Patrick Center's. Volunteers April 18 were from Smile Generation offices — nine in all — in the St. Louis area.

More information

St. Patrick Center • visit www.stpatrickcenter.org

Pacific Dental Services Foundation • visit www.stlouisreview.com/bsO

Smile Generation offices in St. Louis • visit www.stlouisreview.com/bsc 

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