LDS dentists give orphans in Mexico big reason to smile

Dozens of orphans stood in line outside the doors of a makeshift dental office in Guadalajara, Mexico, anxiously anticipating the very thing most children their age avoid - an examination.

Many of the children had never seen a dentist (or even a toothbrush) before. And without the support of the Academy of LDS Dentists they probably never would have."Those kids are forgotten," said Dr. Dale R. Linton, a past president of the academy. "Nobody helps them."

The Academy of LDS Dentists, which has more than 500 members, was formed in 1977 to provide dentists with opportunities to share professional knowledge with each other; give service to the community; and help educate, through scholarships, future LDS dentists. The organization uses funds generated by its annual conference, membership dues and donations to sponsor service projects.

In addition to work in Mexico, members of the academy have, among many other projects, provided health screenings in Trinidad; purchased equipment to outfit six dental offices in Moscow, Russia; and volunteered dental care to the Tarahumarra Indians in Mexico.

The academy also awards scholarships to LDS students around the world for dental school. This year, for example, the academy divided $30,000 in scholarship money among 47 students - living in and outside the United States.

"Part of our mission is to share what we have with others," said Dr. Scott M. Healey, academy president. "That is part of the gospel, to share. Dentists have the ability to help those in need. We want to share that locally and throughout the world."

Brother Healey of the Lindon 13th Ward, Lindon Utah Stake, said although everyone in the academy may not be able to physically travel to such places as Mexico to give service, they contribute to projects through their membership in the academy. For the service project in Guadalajara the academy purchased $1,000 in toothbrushes - which were given to the children - and helped pay partial travel expenses for the volunteers.

During an academy luncheon Aug. 16 - part of its annual conference at BYU - Brother Linton of the North Canyon 7th Ward, Bountiful Utah North Canyon Stake, gave a brief presentation on the academy's volunteer work in Guadalajara.

He or some of his associates have traveled to the Mexican city four times during the last five years. The first year they treated 16 children living in one orphanage. Earlier this year they worked in an orphanage that had more than 100 children - but only had enough time to treat 26 of them.

"We worked straight through from early morning to night time with no break," he said.

When the dentists finish treating the children in this orphanage, 800 children in two more are waiting. Brother Linton said under current circumstances they may never get to them.

He explained the limiting factor the academy faces is a dearth of equipment in Mexico and transporting equipment, which is large and bulky, from the United States to the country via airplane. Every dentist needs a drill and lights. The equipment must be carried to the country and then powered by a generator. For the last trip, seven large bags of equipment (only enough for one dentist and hygienist to work with) were flown to Guadalajara.

Members of the academy look forward to a time when equipment can be kept permanently in the country. Then different volunteer dentists could make the trip monthly or bimonthly.

During the conference at least 25 LDS dentists offered to participate in the program. "There is more work there than we can do in a century," Brother Linton said.

He explained that people often ask him why he travels to Mexico - when there are plenty of people to serve in his own neighborhood. He replied that without the volunteer work the children there would just go without dental treatment - eventually maybe loosing their teeth.

"There are a gazillion people in the world that need dental treatment," he said. "You can't do everything. You just have to pick a spot. Maybe Mexico is all we can do right now, but we have got to do it. We have got to do something."

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