Colorado Springs dentist Bob Meyer and his wife, Diane, have conquered cavities, pummeled pain and destroyed decay from Uganda to Cambodia.
Bob Meyer, a former Army commander of the world's only airborne dental unit, has applied decades of military experience to dentistry-based mission work around the globe. His basement doubles as a mobile dentistry command center, where he keeps an arsenal of equipment.
"Every place has different story. We have seen so many people that live in chronic pain. And people in these countries just can't get any relief," he said. "Where we go there are no dentists, and there is no help."
Bob and Diane, a trained dental assistant, teacher and registered nurse, have been on 50 missions to almost three dozen countries, providing a service they said often is nonexistent.
"The need is always overwhelming," Bob Meyer said. "We have to let the locals (organizers) plan out for months ahead to determine who they want us to see, because we can't see everybody."
Some of their patients have walked 12 hours from their homes and spent two days in line to see a dentist. Many had never had teeth cleaned, or were in hospitals full of people needing tooth extractions. Others had previously refused to see a dentist, choosing to live with a toothache rather than risk contracting HIV from improperly sanitized dental equipment.
"Dentistry changes lives," said Bob Meyer. "When you live in pain, that erodes your whole self-esteem and your ability to function. We focus on their pain, and the aesthetics of their front teeth."
They've also trained local dentists and doctors, and worked to set up permanent clinics.
Over the last decade, they've worked in Egypt, in tsunami-ravaged parts of India, and in poverty-stricken areas along the Russian-Mongolian border.
They've done partial prosthetic teeth for hundreds of people in places such as Madagascar, Nicaragua and Senegal, where cultural barriers proved to be an obstacle - one of many described in their recently published books that document their travels.
"The terrified children are certain we are here to devour them," reads the first sentence in the first volume of "Truth, Teeth & Travel," written by Diane Meyer and published in early December. Some of the children they encountered in Senegal, in West Africa, for instance, had been told that white Americans would eat them if they misbehaved.
Dentistry breaks down those kinds of cultural barriers and perceptions, according to the couple."When you can heal someone physically ... and get in their space, and have them trust you to relieve their pain, it really opens the doors for mission work," Bob Meyer said. The dentist and former colonel serves as president of the Christian Dental Society, which works to develop, sell and rent portable equipment, including a 15-pound dentist chair made of plasticized cardboard.
Although the Meyers have given out close to 1,000 books, any proceeds they get from purchased books go to benefit the Christian Dental Society.
Diane Meyer is working on a third book, and in January the pair will head to the Dominican Republic with an organization called One Child Matters. Later in the year, they'll travel to Ethiopia, and in between trips they'll make presentations at seven conferences around the country where they'll share information about their dentistry-based missionary work.
"We're trying to grow so that more and more people and dentists will use their talents to reach out to others," Bob Meyer said. "Our goal is to help other dentists do what we do."