Dentistry from the Heart

A couple weeks ago, a local dental office partnered with a national nonprofit to provide free dental care to Clark County residents.

Vancouver’s Gillespie Dentistry partnered with the nonprofit Dentistry from the Heart to host the event.

Six local dentists volunteered their time to perform extractions, fillings and cleanings on uninsured adults and children. Hygienists and dental assistants were also on hand for the event, providing cleanings and preparing patients for extractions.

A handful of local residents also volunteered their time at the event. Luigi Serio Jr., whose wife, Janelle, works at Gillespie, was one of those volunteers.

The office opened registration at 6 a.m. on Oct. 22, but many people stayed overnight in their vehicles or in tents pitched on the office grounds, Serio said. The staff treated 130 people in eight hours, he said.

Each patient could choose to have either one cavity filled or one tooth pulled. If they had neither of those needs, they could choose to have their teeth cleaned, Serio said.

Serio emailed me his reflection after serving at the event. Here’s a portion of that email:

Everyone who worked that day was stunned and emotionally overwhelmed as they arrived to see so many people waiting in line outside. The patients-to-be were quiet, longsuffering and often shy, enjoying bottles of water and hot dog lunches the office provided. And some were grumpy, but not because they had to wait in line for hours to be seen: Many were in big-time pain having been enduring toothaches for months. Those critical-need patients were seen first.

Every patient was treated that day as if they were established patients who were paying for their dental care rather than receiving it for free. (And I’m happy to report that for a few of the patients with multiple critical needs the dentists were able to take care of them.) The energy in the office was so positive and caring — it was addictive. The patients couldn’t have been more grateful — not one patient left without saying “thank you” even if it was mumbled through a mouthful of gauze. And in turn, the staff is grateful to them for the reminder of the power of humility.

Among the stories we shared was one of the very elderly gentleman who looked like he dressed that morning in some of his best clothes. After waiting six hours, most of that time outside, he was called in to have a cavity filled, but before he made it into the dental chair he stopped and looked in a mirror to straighten his hair and shirt, perhaps wanting to ensure that his looking well would allow him to be treated well. Little did he know about the excellent care and treatment he was about to receive – messy hair or wrinkled shirt or not.

As the last patient of the day was ready to leave, a man walked in the front door with a grocery bag, quickly said “hello” and set the bag on the front-office counter, leaving as quickly as he came in. One of us walked over to find inside the bag two plates of freshly baked cookies wrapped in plastic wrap and a notecard that read, “Thank you all for sharing your awesome skills with all of us today. You’ve given each of us a better chance for a better life. God bless you.”

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