Tooth woes — and how you can help

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By Jim Vinoski

“I sometimes wonder about the doors that stay shut when you can’t afford a smile.” – Louis M. Profeta MD

Dr. Profeta is one of my favorite writers, and his recent article with the quote above hit home with me in a really big way.

You see, I played a part similar to that of the young lady Dr. Profeta treated.

When I was growing up, my parents made a little go a very long way with me and my six siblings. We never wanted for much, even though raising a family of seven kids on a single government salary had to be a huge challenge for Mom and Dad.

Dental care, unfortunately, fell by the wayside. I had molars literally crumbling to pieces at a young age, but I made not a single dentist visit from about age eight to age fifteen.

I was lucky in one way – my front teeth were only minimally affected by the otherwise rampant decay that took hold by the time I was a teenager. So my smile remained pretty well normal. But a big laugh was a visual nightmare.

Something changed when I was fifteen – maybe better insurance coverage? – when suddenly my Mom sent my brothers and sisters and I to a local dentist, Dr. Donald Sandell.

I remember very hushed but astonished tones between Dr. Sandell and his hygienist at my initial checkup. Particularly memorable was the incredulous, “Look at #14!” That particular tooth was decayed almost to nothing.

I made countless follow-up visits, getting fillings in God knows how many teeth, and a root canal and crown for #14. Dr. Sandell was a Godsend. He annoyed the stew out of me with his constant admonitions to “open wider,” but he did marvelous work. A good many years ago one of my dentists offered to replace the silver-toned crown that caps good ol’ #14 with a modern white one that would look like a real tooth. I declined. Why do away with Dr. Sandell’s handiwork? That crown has been in my head for more than three decades. It’s a good lesson in humility too – there’s always a reminder there at the very edge of my wide smile of the difficulties of the past, where a bit of shiny silver gleams.

I’ve had marvelous dental health since Dr. Sandell worked his magic. Indeed, the main work I’ve had has been addressing the same problems he dealt with – lots of decay required too-big fillings, and those have caused other problems over the years because of the expansion-contraction realities of the materials he had to work with back then. But I still have all my teeth, in one form or another.

Lots of folks aren’t as fortunate as me. They never get the break I got at fifteen, and dental care falls by the wayside their whole lives. Dr. Profeta’s article got me thinking that I should try to help those people, and I searched for suitable charities.

There’s not that much out there. One that popped up and looked pretty good, though, is the America’s Dentists Care Foundation. Wanting to make sure my dollars (and anyone else’s, for that matter) go for the right things, I went straight to “the horse’s mouth” and spoke with their Executive Director, Bill Blasing. He made a believer out of me.

The ADCF, Bill explained, is “the center of a wagon wheel.” They purchase, maintain, and provide low-cost rentals of high-end dental equipment in mobile trailers. These travel to almost all the states in the US to support dental Missions of Mercy and other clinics that provide free dental care to those who can’t afford to pay for it. Their goal is to provide, as Bill put it, “the closest thing to an in-office experience, in a mobile setting” as they possibly can.

At its core, he said, it’s about caring for and loving these people in need. So it’s their goal to provide the very best support for the dentists, hygienists, and other volunteers who make these clinics happen. They’re celebrating ten years of doing so later this year.

The ADCF will get my support. I hope you’ll consider supporting them too.

PS – hey Dr. Profeta, they do a Mission of Mercy clinic in Indianapolis every other year.