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Veteran receives 'priceless' smile through generosity of Mission of Mercy dentists

January 09, 2019

By David Burger

New smile: Army veteran Christopher Flynn flashes his pearly whites after a treatment from a team of volunteer dentists who met him at a Mission of Mercy event in Illinois in 2018.
Springfield, Ill. — Christopher Flynn, an Army veteran who served in Desert Storm and Somalia, welcomed the new year with a new smile.

"I haven't had this kind of smile and confidence for years," Mr. Flynn told ADA News.

Mr. Flynn's smile is a result of extensive work done by dentists who first met Mr. Flynn at the Illinois State Dental Society's volunteer charity event Mission of Mercy in July. Led by Dr. Thomas E. Sullivan, former ADA vice president, a team of volunteer dentists treated Mr. Flynn over a several months to transform the man's teeth — for free.

"Sgt. Flynn was a veteran," said Dr. Sullivan, who is affectionately called "Sully" by Mr. Flynn. "Not unlike other returning veterans, he fell on hard times. A Mission of Mercy is just the program that can help people like Sgt. Flynn.  I knew we could make a significant difference."

Mr. Flynn was the first in line when the Mission of Mercy opened its doors at the Bank of Springfield Center on July 20. After years of going to emergency rooms for excruciating dental pain, he was determined to get some treatment. He admitted he didn't expect much, since so many other underserved people showed up that day for free dental care.

'Inseparable bond': Dr. Thomas E. Sullivan, former ADA vice president, left, poses with patient Christopher Flynn after Mr. Flynn received treatment from a team of volunteer dentists, including Dr. Sullivan, who met him at a Mission of Mercy event in Illinois in 2018.
Fellow dentist Dr. John Kozal, of Chicago, took Mr. Flynn through dental triage and Dr. Sullivan said those two really "hit it off."

Mr. Flynn had multiple teeth that were bothering him and was looking for relief. "The panoramic radiograph detected numerous teeth and root tips on both maxillary and mandibular arches that required extractions, along with several carious lesions on teeth that were salvageable. Dr. Kozal walked over to oral surgery and introduced Chris to me," said. Dr. Sullivan.

"I really took a liking to the guy," Dr. Sullivan said. "I could close my eyes and see him smile."

Dr. Kozal agreed. "I didn't want Sgt. Flynn to get lost in the crowd," he said. "I didn't want him to get lost in the shuffle."

Mr. Flynn had a simple reason why the dentists decided to become invested in him. "I was blessed that day," he said.

The dentists decided upon a treatment plan that would involve surgery later that day with restorations the next day done by Dr. Chris Larsen, of Moline.

"Dr. Larsen then spent a great deal of time and effort to restore nine mandibular teeth that would assure Mr. Flynn could wear a partial denture," Dr. Sullivan said.

They weren't done.

"Although we accomplished a great deal in getting Sgt. Flynn out of pain and infection, we felt the job needed follow-up," Dr. Sullivan said. "I told Chris if he could get up to Chicago — he lives in Springfield — that we would see the treatment plan to completion, making the upper full denture and lower partial denture."

Photo of Mr. Flynn's Army uniform
Uniform of honor: Christopher Flynn is a veteran of the Army who has served in Iraq and Somalia.
With Dr. Brandon Maddox, of Springfield, agreeing to be the local contact dentist to monitor the post-op healing, Mr. Flynn was finally able to make it to Chicago, where Dr. Sullivan completed all treatment the week of Veterans Day.

"Sgt. Flynn's smile is priceless," Dr. Sullivan said. "We have formed an inseparable bond of friendship."

Mr. Flynn echoed the sentiment. "Sully is one of the greatest guys walking on Earth," he said. He bestowed his Liberation of Kuwait medal to Dr. Sullivan as a sign of gratitude.

"None of this would be possible without the Illinois State Dental Society and the Mission of Mercy," said Dr. Sullivan. "I am forever grateful for being able to participate in these programs with dedicated colleagues and staff. It's worth its weight in gold."