Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 13, 1999
Dentist meets Philippines poverty
CSS contacts led local dentist to fill and yank Filipinos' teeth for 2 weeks
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
When Dr. Dennis Bedard went to a small community in Quezon City, Philippines, his job was to pull the teeth that couldn't be saved and fill the ones that could.
His role was not to come in on some gallant horse and be a "white saviour" to the impoverished people of the city.
"There are certain groups that go down there with a certain arrogance and they want to save everyone," said Bedard, a pediatric dentist with more than 20 years of experience at the drill. "That's not what we're there to do."
His wife Bev added, "You don't try to be the white saviour and save them from (the poverty). You try to give them a service to make their lives a little easier.
"Our two weeks with the people in Philippines was like a retreat for us."
The Bedards spent two weeks in November in Quezon City, where with the help of Msgr. Bill Irwin of Catholic Social Services and a religious order in Quezon, they set up a dental service for the locals.
Patients sat in white plastic deck chairs while Dennis Bedard examined their teeth. Bev Bedard often provided extra lighting with a flashlight.
The Bedards had lugged boxes of medication, rubber gloves and small dental equipment to equip their office in Quezon. The office wasn't as spacious and spotless as Dennis' southside Edmonton office, but it served its purpose.
"There's nothing I would have done (in the Philippines) that I would not have done at my office in Edmonton," Dennis said. "It's the same service."
Offering dental services to the poor in Third World countries is not new to him. For the past five years, he has made annual spring visits to Guatemala where he spends a week pulling and filling teeth.
Last spring he and other dentists saw almost 400 patients in Guatemala, the vast majority of whom were women.
"Men are basically chicken when it comes to dentists," Bedard smiled. "It's even like that here."
In Quezon City, he had almost 300 patients over a two-week period.
Quezon is not exactly a thriving metropolis. Parts of it seem more like a thriving landfill, where some of the locals have set up house in hopes of getting first pickings when the garbage trucks make their daily dumps.
Many of these people also live on a diet rich in sugar and poor in fluoride, which makes the patients in Quezon examples of some of the worst cases of tooth decay Bedard has ever seen.
Bedard's work is light on the pocketbooks of his patients, many of whom make an average 200 pesos a day and would never dream of having dental work which could cost about 1.5 million pesos for a filling.
The service is cheap, which explains the lineups Bedard gets, often forming an hour and a half before the office opens. Bedard does what he can and tries to fit in as many patients as possible. He doesn't perform any extraordinary work, just basic fillings and tooth extractions.
"There's so many people," Bedard said. "You can be there a year and you'd never finish the work."
The service also provides renewed confidence for many patients. Bev Bedard noticed how often the teens smiled after having their teeth worked on.
She shows a picture of a young man who had dark spots on his two front teeth, a sign of lack of fluoride. After the dentist put a white filling over the spots, the young man had a personality change.
Bedard has had colleagues accompany him to Guatemala and he encourages as many as he can to spend time putting their skills to work in a Third World country. But he admits that "not everyone wants to experience something like this."
Though the trip was an eye-opener for the Bedards, it also left them "depressed when we come back and see how much we have."
It has also changed their lifestyle a little. They see most of their problems as petty and easily solvable.
"There are people with greater problems than we have," said Bev Bedard.
The trips have also changed their long-term goal. The dream of retiring and playing golf all day in Phoenix, is no longer attractive. They may still do a little of that, but they hope to continue their work in Guatemala, the Philippines and possibly other countries long after retirement.
"God's been good to us and this is our way of giving back," Bedard said. "Sometimes you wonder why you weren't born in a shanty in the Philippines instead of here . . . and you're glad that you weren't.
"So you try to give a little of what you have back."