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3 ADA members named 'heroes'

June 08, 2017

By Michelle Manchir

DentaQuest in May named five health leaders 2017 Health Equity Heroes, including ADA members Drs. Gary Schwarz, Richard Simpson and Johnny Johnson.

The awards are given to people who "are breaking down barriers and developing innovative programming to improve health outcomes and access to care for underserved populations," according to a news release.

Each recipient receives a $1,000 donation from DentaQuest's Citizenship Fund toward a nonprofit that promotes health equity of his or her choice.

Dr. Gary Schwarz


Dr. Schwarz
Dr. Gary Schwarz, an oral surgeon, is recognized for cofounding in 1996 a Weslaco, Texas-based nonprofit, Dentists Who Care, dedicated to serving low-income families without dental insurance in Texas's Rio Grande Valley. Hundreds of dentists and dental assistants have donated preventive dental care to more than 25,000 children and adults since the program's inception, according to DentaQuest. Dr. Schwarz said so far in 2017 he's donated $176,000 in dental care, he said.
 
Dr. Schwarz said his drive to help others comes from his Christian faith and from lessons impressed upon him by his mentor at Baylor University, Dr. Lamar Byrd.

Dr. Byrd told his students to "take care of those who can't afford to take care of themselves," said Dr. Schwarz.

"You're the oral surgeon for the community and you take care of the community," Dr. Schwarz said.

DentaQuest also recognized Dr. Schwarz for his involvement in other nonprofits and causes in his community, including serving as the director of the Seattle Study Club of South Texas, one of the largest study clubs in the country, according to DentaQuest.

Dr. Richard Simpson


Dr. Simpson
Dr. Simpson, a pediatric dentist in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was recognized for his long-term service as an advocate for children's health services. He is in his second year as the chair of the Oral Health Coalition of Alabama, finding and working to implement ways to improve the oral health status of state residents.

Dr. Simpson is also an advocate and leader in interprofessional training in the state, training pediatricians to do oral health risk assessments as the cochair of the Oral Health Committee of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The DentaQuest award recognizes Dr. Simpson's work in "coordinating interprofessional outreach and education between pediatricians and pediatric dentists at a state level that has resulted in national recognition for advocacy and innovative collaboration," according to a news release.

He has also served in various capacities to help modify Medicaid laws in the state to better serve patients, he said.

Calling himself a "servant leader," Dr. Simpson said he sees the advocacy work as a way to serve the dental profession in a way beyond chairside care for patients.

"We're in a position of responsibility in a well-respected profession where we can really have an impact," he said. "Be willing to find something you're passionate about and find a mentor to guide you. It's so rewarding to serve outside of your dental office."

Dr. Johnny Johnson


Dr. Johnson
Dr. Johnson, a pediatric dentist of Palm Harbor, Florida, was recognized for his work leading a comprehensive dental program for low-income community members. Dr. Johnson organized a care program for socioeconomically disadvantaged people in Pinellas County, Florida, with cooperation from the Pinellas County Health Department, the Board of Pinellas County Commissioners and volunteer dentists, which has been operating since 2012.
 
Patients receive radiographs, cleanings, extractions/restorations, treatment plans and often, Dr. Johnson said, "a new hope for a better life."

"I can't tell you the feeling of watching these folks come into this clinic, expecting to be turned down, and then coming out with restored teeth which they felt would certainly have to be extracted," he said.

Dr. Johnson also helped launch a school-based sealant program in Pinellas County, including a mobile clinic that visits public schools to provide sealants for children. Again, this was accomplished with the cooperation of the Pinellas County Health Department, Board of County Commissioners and dental hygienists from the health department.

Dr. Johnson is also president and founder (in 2014) of the American Fluoridation Society, which promotes the health and safety of community water fluoridation.

Other DentaQuest Health Equity Heroes for 2017 are:

  • Judith Haber, Ph.D., executive director of the Oral Health Nursing Education and Practice program at New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing. (New York City)
  • Julie Smithwick, founder and executive director of PASOs. (Columbia, S.C.)