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Prayers answered in Michigan

Volunteers provide patients free dentures in two-day marathon

February 20, 2012

By Jean Williams, ADA News staff

­­Traverse City, Mich.—It made for quite the denture adventure. An ensemble of dental professionals worked intensely over two days to provide 20 economically strained individuals with new smiles.

Lathe night: Kurt Schumacher works a lathe to prepare a set of dentures. The lab was operational overnight to make dentures.

Aside from needing dentures, the recipients had one thing in common: they’d sought help obtaining them from the Traverse Health Clinic. Their prayers ended up being answered by Heaven D.E.N.T., a charitable creation of local dentist, Dr. David Swan. He put together the marathon weekend of making impressions and supplying the uninsured patients with immediate dentures, free of charge.

Dr. Swan conceived of Heaven D.E.N.T.—the acronym translates to “delighting the edentulous with new teeth”—but the genesis of his idea was an appeal from his wife, Lynn, a physician.

“She is the medical director for the Traverse Health Clinic and expressed last fall that there was a large backlog of clients who were without public assistance or the resources to have removable dentures fabricated,” Dr. Swan said.

Dr. Swan’s Traverse Dental Associates is one of 38 local practices that provide free dental care to the health center’s patients, so he was familiar with the pressing needs of such patients. After thinking through his wife’s concerns, Dr. Swan turned to a friend who owns a dental laboratory.

Before and after: Susan Baughman, one of 20 denture recipients, shows off her new smile.

“I phoned my friend, Doug Baker, founder of D.H. Baker Dental Lab, since they are a full-service lab, to see if there might be a way to put together a concentrated, overnight process to help these clients,” Dr. Swan said. “Doug was all in from the get-go and volunteered to recruit technicians and supplies. I worked on the dental recruitment and the folks from Traverse Health Clinic identified the clients, arranged for client transportation and recruited food donations for the weekend.”

Together they amassed 64 volunteers, 800 volunteer hours and $40,000 to $50,000 worth of services. They donated 32 full or partial dentures. Sponsors included Ivoclar Vivadent, an international dental materials supplier, which donated about $12,000 worth of materials; Leemark Dental, which also donated materials; and Schumacher Dental Laboratory, Starcast Dental Laboratory and Rushton Dental Laboratory, which donated lab work along with D.H. Baker Dental Laboratory.

Lab leader: Doug Baker of D.H. Baker Dental Laboratory, one of the organizers of Heaven D.E.N.T.

The patients ranged in age from their late 20s to the 70s, and agreed to be available at the dental office during the weekend.

“We prescreened all of the patients six weeks before the event to make sure that their tissues were in good health,” Mr. Baker said. “We did the measurements so we could pick the right mold size and the right shade. We customized each person with his own set of teeth, just like if they went to an office and paid for them.”

“The lab portion of it was so intense,” Dr. Swan said.

Most of the intensive work occurred Saturday into the wee hours. Each patient left Sunday afternoon with not just new smiles, but practically new facelifts. “It took away a lot of wrinkles,” Mr. Baker said. “It brought them back. Some of them looked 10 years younger, easy. Every one of them was so appreciative. That’s what made it such fun. It couldn’t have gone any smoother.”

While the name Heaven D.E.N.T. may be a play on words, Dr. Swan and Mr. Baker know, of course, that needing teeth was serious business for these patients. “This was adversely affecting their health, nutrition, digestion, self-esteem, and, frankly, their employability,” Dr. Swan said.

The group hopes to help more people through Heaven D.E.N.T., and Dr. Swan has opened the door for other dentists to borrow the process they created to form their own charitable outreach.

Idea genesis: Heaven D.E.N.T. founder Dr. David Swan hugs his wife, Lynn, a physician and medical director whose clinic selected patients to receive new dentures at the weekend event. Dr. Lynn Swan alerted Dr. David Swan to the patients’ dentures need.

“If other dentists or dental societies wish to replicate this process, I’m happy to pass along any information that may help,” he said. “Our vision for the future is to make this an annual event. Everyone involved seemed to think it was a win-win process. Clients had a life-changing event. Dental professionals developed some new skills. Everyone involved had their heart for service satisfied to some extent.”