News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Van offers relief from tooth trouble

The Medical Teams International (MTI) dental van brought relief to Sisters folks suffering from dental ailments on January 6, in front of the Kiwanis House in downtown Sisters.

Doctor Spence Kruger, hygienist Celia Grayson and assistant Debbie Strumbaugh took care of the urgent dental needs of 13 adults. Each patient contributed about $10, and the caregivers volunteered their time for the whole day - as they have for Sisters patients for three years.

The quarterly visits of the MTI urgent-care dental van are a regular occurrence, but in early December, another MTI team provided the first day of preventive dental care from the van in Sisters. This is the first step toward a nominal-cost preventive-dental-care program for Sisters - a dream of three retired dental professionals now living in our community.

An "urgent" dental problem is often an abscessed tooth, and the most effective one-visit fix is to extract the tooth. An adult with a toothache and little money often puts up with the pain until it becomes so bad that they don't know what to do except drive to the emergency room, where in about half an hour, one racks up a bill of $700 or more to receive the temporary fix of lancing the abcess, a few pain pills, antibiotics and a recommendation to see a dentist soon to have the tooth pulled.

MTI's Central Oregon dental van, launched in 2005 and serving Sisters for the first time in March 2007, is one of 11 that travel the Pacific Northwest serving two million people living below the federal poverty level. Instead of starting from scratch, MTI always partners with local organizations already aware of the needs and networks of the community. In Sisters, the partner is Family Access Network (FAN).

Here, the van team treats mostly adults because Kemple Clinic in Bend serves the urgent dental care needs of children in the region, both at the clinic and in the offices of several area dentists.

But what if dentists could "fix the roof while it's not pouring down rain?"

That was the topic of conversation when Hank and Jan Failing met Celia Grayson hiking a few months ago.

Grayson, now retired to Sisters, worked as a dental hygienist in Portland for 37 years. She has volunteered for more than 15 years with MTI. Working through FAN, she currently is the dental coordinator for Sisters area residents needing nominal-cost dental care. She works closely with Debbie Strumbaugh who, in addition to volunteer assisting on the van, coordinates the MTI van's schedule throughout Central Oregon.

Jan Failing is also a retired dental hygienist, formerly of Portland. She and her husband, Hank, worked together for many years in his dental practice of 37 years. While they are committed to being retired - Hank relishes his time in his wood and metal shop - they also are committed to "using our skills to give back," as Jan says.

"Dental care doesn't need to be 'decay, toothache, extraction' - and this is the motivation for this preventive dental care project for Sisters," said Hank.

Even regular preventive dental care is an expense that many people let pass with the adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

But gum disease starts doing damage before it becomes painful. In its late stages, the damage cannot be reversed and is difficult and expensive to patch up. To compound the problem, dental disease causes health problems throughout the body. The irony is that it is preventable. Starting with a clean mouth, daily brushing, flossing and a diet moderate in carbohydrates, most people can maintain a healthy set of choppers.

"We want to get people the tools they need to prevent dental disease," says Hank, "We can start by cleaning the teeth really well, doing an exam and x-rays to assess their status, perhaps some fillings and correcting a few minor problems before these become big problems."

Grayson adds, "We are aiming to eliminate the cycle of emergency, to put an end to serial toothaches."

They're not looking for people who just want to have someone else take care of their teeth for them.

"We are here to help people motivated to help themselves," says Hank. "Give them a clean slate, so to speak, so they can continue their own daily commitment to keep their teeth clean and healthy."

Currently, they have scheduled the MTI van for a preventive-dental-care day every two months in Sisters - the next scheduled day is Wednesday, February 24.

They park the van in front of the Kiwanis Club building, where the food bank is located. Dr. Rick Judy has loaned a dental chair to the project, so a room in the building provides a third station of service, increasing the number of patients served that day to approximately 10, and some will be follow-up appointments.

"A drop in the bucket, yes," says Hank, "but we start somewhere."

The preventive dental team of volunteers currently consists of Hank and Jan Failing, Celia Grayson, hygienist Darlene Miller, and assistants Julie Mansfield and Audra Garbrecht. The endeavor also requires volunteer time in other capacities, such as registration, for which Lyn Durand, Terry Mischke, Susan Johnson, Marean Jordan and Margaret Doke often step in.

The MTI van was bought, converted and is supplied through MTI's network of funding. However, there is a fee for the Sisters volunteer dental team to bring in and operate the van. Several organizations and individuals in Sisters have been generous in their support of the urgent-care dental project and some are already starting to contribute to the preventive care project: Sisters Kiwanis Club, Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, Roundhouse Foundation and Jack McGilvery.

For more information about signing up for services, contact Dawn or Theresa at Family Access Network (FAN), 541-549-0155. To volunteer your time, donate funding, equipment, supplies or a location for a preventive-care dental clinic, contact FAN or Celia Grayson, 541-549-1008.


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