Iowa Alumni Magazine | August 2007 | People

Delivering Smiles: Phillip Hendrix

By Kelly Stavnes
Phillip Hendrix Phillip Hendrix operates his dental practice from his Honda Element, bringing home care to ill and eldery patients.

For the elderly, ill, and homebound living in Mesa, Arizona, Phillip Hendrix is a special kind of hero.

Every morning, Hendrix loads his green Honda Element with the tools and equipment he will need for the 100-mile roundtrip journey ahead of him.

Hendrix, 98DDS, is a mobile dentist who has sacrificed the routine of a standard practice to bring the dentist's office to the disadvantaged and disabled.

Over the next 12 hours, he will hunch over the bedsides and wheelchairs of his patients -- the chronically ill 86-year-old woman on multiple medications, the elderly man who is afraid of public places, the Alzheimer's patient in an assisted living facility.

He extracts broken teeth, fills painful cavities, takes X-rays, fits dentures, and performs routine cleanings. Without him, his patients would likely receive no oral health care. He visits nursing homes, hospitals, and private residences, where many of his patients are nearing the end of their lives. Some are demented, combative. Many are bedridden.

It's a tough job -- both emotionally and physically. At times, Hendrix wishes he worked in a nice office with soothing background music, but then he asks himself: "If I don't do this, who will?"

"Mobile dentistry is definitely not glamorous," says Hendrix, who only performs routine maintenance procedures that keep his patients comfortable and infection-free. "You don't build the same patient relationships that you'd have in a normal setting, but this has different rewards."

Above all, he welcomes the opportunity to offer patients relief from unnecessary pain, and he appreciates the gratitude he receives from their caretakers and family members.

A Los Angeles native, Hendrix never planned to pursue mobile dentistry -- in fact he admits he disliked the rotation assignment during dental school. Upon completing his residency in Arizona, though, he saw a dire need for mobile dentists in the area. In the end, he chose public service over his own desires.

While Hendrix hopes to continue mobile dentistry, the stress placed on his back from working in cramped spaces may force him to choose another career path. For now, he aims to help those who need him most for as long as possible.

"This just seems to be my calling," he says.