The Joy of a Smile: Malta Dental Clinic
“Our goal is to help people become healthy and presentable. Sometimes just getting their teeth cleaned helps someone feel more confident” shares Nancy Harmon R.D.H., Dental Director of the Dames and Knights of the Order of Malta’s Dental Clinic. She continues, “Our mission is to help provide healing. It is part of living out the call of the Beatitudes.”
The Malta Dental Clinic, with the help of more than 200 volunteers, provided more than 1,100 visits for uninsured patients in the past year. These visits include examinations, x-rays, hygiene, fillings, extractions and making more than 140 dentures. They believe they are the only organization in the Detroit area that provides free dentures.
The Clinic was a 2019 impact grant recipient by the Catholic Foundation of Michigan. The grant they received paid for 20 dentures as well as a small portion of operating costs for the dental director, the only paid staff person, who is responsible for the safety and management of the clinic.
“We want people to be able to live and work to their potential,” Nancy shares. “People are judged by how their teeth look and by their breath. In addition to causing pain and having problems with digestion, not having teeth makes people unacceptable for certain jobs.”
Nancy shared the story of one patient who worked as a stocker at Home Depot. She was a gregarious person who wished to work as a cashier or helping people on the floor. She was missing her front teeth, but after receiving a partial at the clinic she was able to say, with confidence, “Can I help you find something?” and was able to earn $2 per hour more after being promoted to work on the floor.
“In addition to limiting employment, when people no longer have teeth, they often feel ashamed to participate in social events or go to church. They become isolated,” shares Tom Larabell, Treasurer and Executive Director of the Malta Medical and Dental Clinic.
By providing free dentures, the Malta Dental Clinic provides the joy of a smile. This smile reconnects them to the community, boosts their self-esteem, and allows them to access better employment.
The Order of Malta is a Catholic lay religious order that is distinguished by their commitment to nurturing and protecting the faith, and providing assistance to those who are poor and sick. The Order carries out these activities in over 120 countries and in 30 areas in the U.S. as part of the Order of Malta, American Association USA.
In 2004, members of the Michigan Area Order of Malta were preparing and serving a meal in the basement Soup Kitchen of St. Leo’s Church in Detroit. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, then pastor of St. Leo’s, asked the members to provide medical care for clients of the soup kitchen who were in need. The Order of Malta accepted the challenge and developed the Malta Medical and Dental Clinic. The medical and dental clinics are staffed with highly qualified health professionals who volunteer their time and talent to serve patients in need.
Collaboration is key to the clinic. Students volunteer from the University of Detroit Mercy’s Dental School, Wayne County Community College hygiene program and Wayne State Pharmacy School. “Each student sees things from a different perspective and learns from each other and from the community of patients they serve,” Nancy shares. There are also pre-medical and pre-dental students that volunteer before applying to school and they learn how to run a clinic office.
The clinic is making plans to move from the basement of St. Leo’s building into a space that is more accessible to those with mobility challenges. They have entered into a relationship with Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan and will be sharing a building. There, patients will also be able to receive social services through Catholic Charities.
The Malta Dental Clinic shares the love of Christ through their care of low-income people of all faiths. The volunteers and patients are from every faith and ethnicity; at times there are five languages spoken at the clinic. “We pray with volunteers and patients and share our belief in God’s grace and mercy. God is evident in all we do,” shares Tom.
The clinic is dependent on grants and donors to cover the costs related to medical supplies, their building, and other operating costs. To learn more about how to support the clinic or get involved, visit maltaclinic.org.
“We live grant to grant. And God provides. The money we received from the Foundation is essential,” says Nancy.