The core mission of the Academy of Prosthodontics is the continuing commitment to the care and wellbeing of prosthodontic patients. In 1993 the Academy began an ambitious program of delivering prosthodontic care to underserved areas. The first Academy outreach group treated patients at the Charles Albert Indian Health Care Center in Ada, Oklahoma. This facility had a denture waiting list of two thousand edentulous patients. At this first outreach, eight Academy members treated 29 medically compromised patients and the project was considered a success by all involved. Since that time, the Academy has conducted outreach programs at ten locations. Currently, the Academy is conducting summer outreach programs at Native American sites in Alaska, Wyoming, Nebraska and Utah. These programs are funded by grants from the Indian Health Service, Navaho Tribal funds, and a generous grant from Straumann Corporation. The Academy also receives material donations from Dentsply, Ivoclar, and Patterson Dental Company, making the Academy Outreach Program self-funded. Over the last 20 years, over 1000 patients have been treated and approximately 1800 complete dentures have been placed by Academy members, representing hundreds of thousands of dollars of treatment to this underserved group. Perhaps the best perspective on the Outreach Program is from participants themselves.
Dr. Tom Taylor: "The outreach program has provided the method of giving something meaningful to some people who might not otherwise receive the benefit of the wonderful training, profession and specialty that I am so lucky to be a part of. So, the feeling of doing something that is clearly appreciated by the recipient is a super simple egocentric reason that I love the outreach program. The outreach program is more than a vehicle for those who participate to feel good about their contribution. The program puts the Academy and all of prosthodontics in a great position for gaining recognition. Our profile in the Native American communities is high and beneficial to prosthodontics in dentistry." Dr. Taylor says that he became "hooked on the first trip and continues to be an addict for the feeling he gets when he treats people who are so needy of the services he can provide." When asked if he could make a wish for the future of Outreach Program, Dr. Taylor said that his only wish is that it would be "expanded over one hundred times to the point where every academy member participates in the program. This program allows our Foundation to approach individual organizations with a meaningful cause that can be invested in for the benefit of all. I hope the future of the Outreach Program is growth and expansion."
Dr. Dorsey Moore said "the dental experience with these patients has provided many heartwarming times. The appreciation for the professional health care was always evident. One woman walked eight miles to receive her complete dentures as she could not get a ride that morning. As I have worked with this Native American population, I now feel as though every patient whom I have treated is a friend." Dr. Moore stated that he has also been able to provide valuable continuing dental education to the local Indian Health Care staff who always asks him if he is coming back next year. Dr. Moore feels as though his Native American patients in Alaska are his extended family and has witnessed their concern and care for one another, especially for the senior citizens. "This program has definitely altered my feelings and concerns for the Blackfeet of Montana and the Tlingit tribe in Alaska."
Dr. Ed Plekivich: "It is really more fun than anything else. The people you treat are so nice and they are excited that you are there. Many of the patients we see have had no teeth for years. Sometimes you sleep on hard floors, work twelve to fifteen hours a day, skip meals, but it is still is, by far, the best week of the year you will ever spend. I am convinced that the giver gets more out of it than the recipient. Doing something for someone else feels good, and we are programmed to do that. I believe that there is something in our DNA, it is part of our nature, and the compensation is far greater than anything can buy.
Dr. Eric Rasmussen: "Any time you help other people, you feel good about yourself. It sort of justifies your existence. And, you may never know, you may influence a young person to go into dentistry or help someone in the community. But, I think it does me more good than it does them. I feel terrific when I help others."
Academy Outreach Programs are a rewarding experience for the participants, the Academy and the patients. The opportunity for service, challenge, camaraderie and learning is an inviting combination.