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A Mouthful of Mercy: Gary Davis, D.D.S. '84


On an unseasonably warm Friday morning in May, hundreds of people lined up outside the door and around the corner of Temple University's Liacouras Center not for concert tickets or a basketball game but to see a dentist.

Standing in the heat for the chance to get their teeth checked, these were men, women and children without the resources to afford regular dental maintenance.

Inside the Liacouras Center, Gary Davis, D.D.S. '84, was playing traffic cop, directing the scores of dentists, hygienists, techs and volunteers on hand to serve the patients waiting to be seen at MOM-n-PA, an annual, two-day, free dental clinic for underserved Pennsylvanians. As the general chair of MOM-n-PA, part of the American Dental Association's Mission of Mercy (MOM) initiative, Davis was the dentist ultimately responsible for the event's success.

North Philadelphia is several hours and countless cultural shifts from Shippensburg, Pa., where Davis maintains a family practice. But journeying far and wide to help the less fortunate is as much a part of his dentistry as brushing twice a day.

"Ever since I started in dentistry, I wanted to do mission work, but I couldn't find a place to go or what to do," he said during a break at May's clinic. "I'm a Rotary member, and at one of the district conferences they had a speaker who did mission work in Ecuador. I said to her, 'I'm really interested in doing this,' and she said, 'We really need the help,' and so for 13 years I've been going to Ecuador once a year."

Davis and a team of 20 to 25 dentists have served in Esmeraldas, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Salinas, Pasaje and Riobamba. Seeing about 700 children per visit, the team performs procedures ranging from extractions and fillings to cleft palate repairs and
skin grafts for burns during these 10-day trips.

"I just love doing mission work," he said. "You know you're making a difference in the world. If you can make a difference for people who need help, it just really makes you feel good."

Davis decided to add to his volunteer efforts after meeting a group of dentists at an ADA convention who had just conducted their first MOM clinic. They spoke so passionately about the fulfillment the initiative had brought them that he and some other Pennsylvania dentists formed a nonprofit to get the project off the ground in the Keystone State. The event in Philadelphia was the first large-scale Mission of Mercy event in Pennsylvania. More than $850,000 of dental services were donated and 1,820 patients were seen.

Overseeing a thousand volunteers and a $200,000 budget, finding a venue, and advertising the clinic required many hundreds of hours of Davis's time over the prior year. He wouldn't have had it any other way.

"The patients have so much gratitude," he marveled. "They're out there happy and laughing and shaking my hand. 'Thank you so much, Doctor. I don't know what I would do if I didn't have something like your event.' They're just so grateful."

–Tom Durso

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