Keith Phillips, DDS
Some dentists retire to fish and play golf ... and when they get tired of that, they play golf and fish. Not so with Dr. Norm Freiberger of the Greater St. Louis area.
Dr. Freiberger retired in 1998. He discovered, to use his words, that "There is a whole different world out there that needs to be served in some capacity. There are too many people underserved, unemployed, and (who) just cannot get any type of health care. If we really believe, as professionals, that it is our duty to serve humanity, then we must address these problems in a well-thought- out and direct manner."
With this philosophy in mind, Dr. Freiberger and his friends resolved to make a difference in the Greater St. Louis area. First, they began the SSM St. Joseph Senior Services Dental Clinic in St. Charles, Mo. The American Dental Association recognized the success of this clinic by awarding it the Geriatric Oral Health Care Award in 2002. The GOHA is given annually to an innovative dental program that has improved the oral-health care of older Americans. It includes a $2,500 grant to help support and expand these services.
Dr. Freiberger serves as the clinical director of the program, which was developed to meet the unmet needs of the residents living in long-term care facilities in St. Charles, Warren, and Lincoln Counties. The services provided to eligible seniors include transportation, treatment of oral infections, restorations, oral-cancer screenings, oral surgery, and construction of removable prostheses.
The clinic is staffed by a paid, full-time hygienist, and 11 volunteer dentists. It is funded by the SSM foundation, grants, and donations from other churches and individuals. The volunteers currently serve 32 nursing homes in the three counties.
Dr. Freiberger and the Greater Saint Louis Dental Society also have been active in meeting the needs of the large ethnic community, numbering over 50,000. A new clinic is underway and it will be staffed entirely by volunteers. Grants to assist with the operation of the clinic from nonprofit organizations now total more than $5,500. The clinic will be staffed primarily by retired dentists in the Greater St. Louis area. According to Dr. Freiberger, its primary emphasis will be on remedial care.
One reason for the strong trend toward volunteerism in the St. Louis area has been the significant influence of Dr. B. Ray Storm, past president of the Greater St. Louis Dental Society. Dr. Storm made awareness of the significant needs of the underserved — and how volunteerism by GSLDS members might meet some of these needs — a priority during his tenure as president.
Dr. Storm preached the "psychology of group poverty" as a way to foster this interest. "When a public-health clinic was launched, dentists, hygienists, dental assistants, and volunteers stepped back and said, 'Yes, I want to be a part of that,' and everyone jumped aboard," he recalls.
The "giving back" concept is alive and well in the Greater St. Louis area thanks to people like Dr. Norm Freiberger and Dr. B. Ray Storm.
Dr. Keith Phillips maintains a private practice in Winston-Salem, N.C. He is president and founder of The Giving Hand Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to the start-up and development of free medical and dental clinics. Dr. Phillips also serves as a teaching associate at the L.D. Pankey Institute and is on the faculty of the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry.