Wilber Ramirez-Rodriguez '10 Gives Back with Dental Care
Abscesses line the gums. Oral infection is prevalent. For workers in Washington County’s vineyards, dental care is rare. That’s why Pacific University’s Smile Care Everywhere program collaborates with businesses, volunteers, hospitals and the university to provide care to as many as it can.
Visiting vineyards and churches, the program brings portable dental equipment to patients, providing dental care — sometimes the first dental cleaning ever — to uninsured and low-income people.
The program is just part of the way that Wilber Ramirez-Rodriguez ’10, now a full-time faculty member in Pacific’s School of Dental Health Science, has built his life around dentistry and giving back to the community. In addition to supervising Pacific students’ service with the Smile Care Everywhere program, he also supervises students in clinical rotations at Virginia Garcia, a nonprofit healthcare organization where he is also a part-time hygienist.
In 2013, he received the Genius Award from the Oregon Public Health Institute for his outstanding dental service to the community.
Ramirez-Rodriguez grew up in the mountains of Peru, where his parents offered an example by giving back to their own community.
“They have taught me the importance of community service,” he said. “They were always helping build houses, build schools, and organizing activities to improve our town’s development.”
Growing up, Ramirez-Rodriguez wanted to be a chemical engineer, but his community needed dental care — and he wanted to help others.
“More than the passion for dentistry was the passion to serve people,” he said. “Dentistry was a need in the community, so I decided to go to school for it.”
He attended years of school and receive his license as a dentist in Peru. During his schooling, he volunteered for the Peruvian Red Cross, where he developed a program for elders without health insurance. He also interned in the Amazon and participated in the health brigades ran by Peruvian Minister of Health and Doctors Without Borders, where he spent 25 days in the heart of the jungle.
“There were no stores, nothing,” he said. “There were native people who lived there that have no access to dental, and there’s no easy way to treat them because it’s hard to reach them.”
In 2002, Ramirez-Rodriguez moved to the United States and sold his business in Peru to live and continue school here. He received his bachelor of science in dental hygiene from Pacific in 2010 and currently is working toward his master of business administration.
He continues volunteering, working with the American Red Cross, and he also opened his own business, Dental Reach, developed as part of his business project and capstone class during his dental hygiene training.
“My goal was to make a sustainable program that will serve underserved communities in Oregon, charging them very low fees to make it accessible for them to get their dental hygiene services,” he said. “My focus was to partner and work in collaboration with community organizations already focusing in those communities.”
That’s just what the business did, until he put it on pause to move from adjunct faculty to full-time faculty at Pacific in 2013.
Now, in addition to supervising students at Pacific’s dental clinic, mobile clinic and Smile Care Everywhere program, he helps out at the Interdisciplinary Diabetes Clinic, where diabetes patients see several providers for comprehensive management of their care.
In his free time, he travels to Seattle to visit his 5-year-old daughter or spends time with his other daughter, a newborn, locally.
A Timbers soccer fan, he enjoys bringing his eldest daughter to games when he’s not practicing his own skills. And, he likes spending time outdoors and experiencing the diverse food Portland has to offer.
“I’m happy [my children] have more options here than in Peru,” Ramirez-Rodriguez said. “In Peru, if your family is poor, then you’re kind of always destined to be poor.”
While he enjoys the U.S., though, he hasn’t left Peru behind. He hopes to travel back next year with students to provide dental care and promote preventive dentistry.
“It will be important to develop and implement a sustainable clinic and work in collaboration with Peruvian entities and programs from foreign countries,” he said.