Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Behind the scenes...

My fellow bloggers can attest to just how much of our lives do not make it into posts! For reasons of every color and stripe ranging from privacy to monotony, there are things I just do not choose to articulate let alone photograph. Today's post will be a study in how to cover a topic near and dear to my heart without breaking any laws or regulations. As a WARNING I must say that there will be disturbing images found below so stop now if you have a squeamish stomach!!!! I  must also state that NEITHER of the photographs are taken by myself or depict an actual patient of mine!!! I Googled them so I could have visual impact to my words. Now I'm thinking that about covers all the necessary disclaimers so here's the post.

It is no secret that I am a dentist. I worked in a private practice when I first graduated from dental school. As the junior associate I was given the privileged of handling all of the after hours emergency calls and the 'honor' of assuming the contract that the practice had with the local jail. Yes, one day a week my waiting room was filled with men in shackles waiting to get a tooth, or two, or three pulled!!! At the time I was grateful for the money but resentful of the limited scope of dental care I was being allowed to perform. Now, more than 20 years later and decidedly wiser, I am beyond grateful for the experience as it took a sheltered suburban brat out of her insular little world and exposed her to the knowledge that life is not absolute...not black OR white...not good OR bad...not right OR wrong...not happy OR sad ...well you get the idea. The inmates taught me about mistakes in judgment due to ignorance not evil. The public aid patients taught me about social injustice and the collateral victims. The phobic patients taught me about the gray part of the emotional spectrum. Then in one of those moments that unexpectedly change your life, I discover that the foster child currently living with my parents was in jeopardy of being expelled from school because neither my Mom or her caseworker could find a dentist in our AFFLUENT county who would accept the public aid card... and therefore she could not get the required dental exam for the school's records! The practice I was working in at the time did take the public aid card but was located 40-50 miles away. My Mom called to ask if I could bring the child with me to work one day and do the required exam so she wouldn't miss any days of school?

The rest, as they say, is history!! I told my Mom to tell the caseworker that if she wanted to gather together all of her clients and bring them all on one day that I would do all the exams. The caseworker told her supervisor. The supervisor called the local health department with whom she had organized a "Back to School" fair which gathered a bunch of services together into one location to help the foster children and working poor of the county. The local health department called me since they were in need of dentists in the 'health' portion of the fair. I went and worked that night at the event and a month later I signed a contract to be an "On call" dentist with the health department. That was 17 years ago! In the intervening years I became a "contract employee" of the health department, got married, tried fertility treatments, left private practice, and adopted two daughters.

Well, that was my longest introduction to date for a post!! To the meat of the matter. My job with the health department involves going into the schools of our county and performing exams on children who's parents have filled out waivers. Everyone who fills out the waiver gets a FREE exam! Based on age, health, income, grant requirements, and a bunch of other factors, some children will qualify for some or one of the other services which include cleanings, sealants, fluoride treatments, and minor dental restorations. I work with a marvelous group of hygienists and assistants who not only perform their professional services but also pack/unpack, set-up/take down, and maintain a van full of portable equipment. I am the Prima Donna. I show up once they are set-up and I leave once all the exams are completed for the day. Some days that means I'm home before lunch and others mean I go back multiple days to the same school. I never really know which it is going to be until the day before I start a school and the office calls with the number of signed waivers?!?!?

Today I saw about 100 of these kind of mouths.....

and about 60 of these kind of mouths!!!

That's right, you read and saw what you read and saw. I saw 160 children's mouths today!! Sadly, almost none were caries free. I come home with a body wearied and a mind numbed by the scope of dental care given and yet NEEDED by the children of my county. I come home to two more children who need my driving, cooking, cleaning, homework assistance, hugging, and kissing skills. I probably won't sleep for tilting at windmills of social and economic injustices....
Is it any wonder that a certain blogger has nothing left but a shallow post about Gorilla Gardening or Lido Beach longing? So much easier to figure out where to get cheap seeds and how best to plant them than finding solutions to  poverty and corporate corruption.......


  1. Mother Teresa said, "We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.” why else would you be able to do this service for so long if you didn't also have great love for these children. bless you.

  2. What an awesome thing your doing!

  3. Your patients are my patients' children, I think. So sad and frustrating sometimes trying to find people the help/access to resources they need.