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MyView: Giving thanks, every day

December 12, 2016

By William Calnon, D.D.S.


William Calnon, D.D.S.
I often have the good fortune to interact with some of the newer members of our profession, sometimes students at their schools, American Student Dental Association leaders at one of their conferences or dental residents working through their various programs. When lecturing to them, I structure my presentations to be interactive so I get to know more of their concerns, but my favorite time spent with them is sitting down for a real conversation either as a group or one-on-one. A question often posed to me is, what do I gain most from being a dentist? My answer is easy: helping others, either by using my clinical skills or my heart. More specifically, delivering care to my patients or volunteering my time for those with unmet needs.

During one of my recent interactions, a first-year resident confided in me that she had spent considerable time and effort with a patient to assure not only a quality result, but also a pleasant experience. She was dismayed that the patient never acknowledged her effort, even with a simple thank you. I told her that some people aren't at their best while in a clinical setting and may not remember their best manners. I also reminded her that we are not in it for the accolades and that we gain tremendous satisfaction from knowing that we have made a positive difference in someone's life.

During my drive home that night, I started thinking about the young resident's question about being thanked. My mind soon wandered beyond my own patients and the narrow focus of my own world. I found myself wondering about all the people that we as a profession, not as individuals, positively affect by our actions.

My involvement with the ADA Foundation has widely opened my eyes to how many people we impact, but may never meet, whose problems we ourselves will never experience and who will never be able to thank us in person. An important aspect of the mission of the ADA Foundation is its support of care delivery and community education programs that improve oral health from birth through adulthood. The wide reaching impact of this support is astounding.

An organization in Ohio wrote that an ADAF Access to Care grant helped provide care for indigent patients, adding "We vow to treat each patient as we would our own family. We will work tirelessly to provide exceptional care, promote good health, and prevent disease."

A program in Arizona noted, "It is because of generous partners, like you, that we are able to empower families to get the medical and dental care they and their children need and deserve so they can live productive, healthy lives!"

A letter from a program in Philadelphia stated: "Our high-quality dental care is provided in a caring, respectful way that meets the special needs of underserved children. As a result of this gift, children will be helped to have healthy, confident smiles that will carry into their adult lives."

The Venice (California) Family Clinic noted that the ADAF's gift "ensures that the most vulnerable members of our community have access to consistent, high-quality care, regardless of income or insurance."

Such notes demonstrate that ADAF grant recipients invest in the health of their patients, much as we strive to do every day in our own surroundings, attending to patients' special needs, providing a caring environment and treating patients like family. All of these are reflections of our own efforts, multiplied thousands of times over through the ADAF.

We receive similar comments from dentists affected by disasters or who need financial assistance just to get by. One recipient wrote, "Thank you for the emergency assistance grant we recently received. We were recently forced out of our home with nowhere to go. Your grant provides us with the immediate resources needed to gain food, shelter, medications and most importantly, a little peace of mind. God bless you! As a 40-year member of the ADA, I am thankful for a wonderful organization and profession that extends a helping hand to those members in need."

Students also are very grateful. One Allied Health Scholarship recipient wrote: "Without this scholarship, continuing my education and completing my degree would be near impossible. We do not have the funds to pay out of pocket for my education so I am relying solely on scholarships to pay for the expenses of school. I plan to continue my dedication to learning and would love to find a position in pediatric dentistry where I can have a positive impact on the oral health of generations to come. Saying thank you is not enough!"

I provide examples of a few who have said thank you. The impact of our efforts extends to thousands more from whom we will never hear. While our outreach may be documented, our professional rewards are immeasurable.

We are engaged in a noble profession, one that allows us to personally help many individuals and communities. I am proud that we also can help many thousands of others through the work of our own ADA Foundation. Although we will never meet these individuals, nor will we provide care to them ourselves, we know that they deeply appreciate our support and encouragement.

Like my young resident, we may never hear a tangible "thank you," but we may all rest assured that, collectively, we truly make a difference, perhaps by using our clinical skills, but more importantly by listening to our hearts.

In this season of thankfulness for the people and experiences that enrich our lives, I am grateful for our ADA Foundation. It allows us to extend our professional commitment to so many others in need.

Dr. Calnon is the president of the ADA Foundation board and served as ADA president in 2011-12.