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‘Oddball’ Eagle Scout project establishes long-term MOM event

Wilmington, N.C.—When dentistry runs through your veins, your Eagle Scout project is not going to be typical.

Typical, in this case, would be defined as designing and building a ramp for disabled people; building dog houses for a local animal shelter; or building a bus stop shelter. All great projects but, in other words, a lot of building.

Image: Student assistance: Michael Plage, left, assists during a MOM event.
Student assistance: Michael Plage, left, assists during a MOM event. Photo courtesy of Star News Media/Matt Born

When it came time for Michael Plage, who’s now in dental school, to decide on his Eagle Scout project in 2005, building something didn’t come to mind. He turned to what he knew: dentistry.

Michael, then 17, asked his father, Dr. Robert Plage, for his advice. Dr. Plage, former vice chair of the ADA’s Council on Dental Benefit Programs, exposed his son to voluntary dentistry at a pretty young age and had been a volunteer at Missions of Mercy events, most notably one in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. So it was natural for him to suggest a dentistry-centric project.

Dr. Plage, a Wilmington resident since 1983, knew there was some interest in bringing a MOM event to the city so he suggested Michael, now 23, take the lead on it. Michael secured his home church as the clinic site and got to organizing.

“He really had to see that whole clinic through,” Dr. Plage said. “He had to get on the microphone and make the announcements and lead people to where they needed to be. That was a pretty cool project for him to do as a junior in high school.”

The first year, around 440 people were seen, Michael said.

“Since then they’ve gotten bigger and bigger,” Michael said.

In fact, the Wilmington program is now housed at Cape Fear Community College so it can fit the nearly 670 patients who come through. It’s a two-day clinic that opens at 6 a.m., complete with an X-ray van, a unique equipment setup funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield. In 2012, $387,000 worth of services were donated.

“The NCMOM program has been a huge success, not only across the state of North Carolina, but particularly in my hometown of Wilmington,” said Dr. Wilson Jewell, president of the North Carolina Dental Society. “We have gone from a small event at a local church to a much larger clinic at Cape Fear Community College. NCMOM provides a venue for dental teams to come together and use their skills for the benefit of the entire community. I am proud of what Dr. Plage and Michael have done to ensure that the program will continue to provide care for those in need.”

Image: Family project: Michael Plage, center, stands with his parents, Anne and <br />
                    Dr. Bob Plage, at the MOM event in Wilmington he organized as part of his Eagle Scout project.
Family project: Michael Plage, center, stands with his parents, Anne and Dr. Bob Plage, at the MOM event in Wilmington he organized as part of his Eagle Scout project.

NCMOM events will be held in 13 cities this year. Last year, around 8,300 patients were seen and $4.2 million worth of services were performed. It’s one of the oldest MOM programs in the United States, founded in 2003. It’s now run by the North Carolina Dental Society and funded by the North Carolina Dental Health Foundation.

Dr. Plage is the chair of the North Carolina Dental Health Fund, the for-profit arm of the North Carolina Dental Society, and co-chair of the MOM Planning and Oversight Committee for the dental society. He and his wife, Anne, continue to volunteer at the Wilmington clinic, and Dr. Plage volunteers at MOM sites around the state.

Part of the dental health foundation’s strategic plan is to help communities put clinics together, Dr. Plage said.

“Often, we feel at times like we’re the circus coming to town,” Dr. Plage said. “What we need to be doing is helping to enable these communities to solve their issues with access. We’ve got to help communities help themselves and I think we’re going to be getting into that in the next couple of years in our long-range plan.”

The seed for Michael’s long-range plan was planted during his Eagle Scout project. Originally moving toward a career in medicine, Michael’s dentistry gene was finally expressed after he organized the clinic. He’s now a dental student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Set to graduate in 2015, Michael said he’s only been able to make it to one of the Wilmington clinics since he started dental school because of his heavy workload.

At the last clinic, some local Boy Scouts helped clean up and put away equipment, Dr. Plage said. They had the opportunity to talk to Michael and hear about his project and how he started the clinic.

“It really made an impression on the young scouts as to what possibilities there are for an Eagle Scout project,” Dr. Plage said.

As a 17-year-old, Michael said he was naïve as to what went into treating patients at a volunteer clinic. As a dental student with one year under his belt, Michael said he sees the clinics with more experienced, trained eyes. And he’s happy to leave the project in the hands of the seasoned North Carolina Dental Society folks, who oversee the Wilmington MOM clinic every year.

“It was definitely an oddball project but I knew there was a need for it in the area and it was a good way to incorporate my personal interest,” Michael said. “It’s a good feeling to know I played a part in it.”