Dentists are necessary and thanks to them, and their research, health complications like edentulism — complete tooth loss — are becoming less and less common in the United States. This progress is thanks to dentists who care not only about their patients, but also about the bigger picture — the bigger cause. Sometimes we dentists lose sight of the bigger cause, so I make it a habit to remember and celebrate the dentists who go the extra mile for their patients.
In that spirit, I’d like to highlight three heroes that I deeply admire:
De Jager and the Story of Alex Kerr
You are cycling your bike on your way home from work, the sun is seeping through light gray clouds that roll across the sky. This is a trip you make almost every day. It’s routine. Suddenly, your world is turned upside down. A car strikes you from behind, sending you flying onto the floor — you are put into a state of deep sleep, a coma.
This is the incredible story of the brave Alex Kerr, a young woman from Milton Keynes, England. It’s the story of a tragedy that turned into a miracle.
Miss Kerr awoke from her coma to find that she had suffered from a series of broken bones and from the loss of six of her front teeth. In the United Kingdom, all citizens can access healthcare through the universal NHS. It, of course, covered the majority of her injuries, but not her dental problems — which, although caused by the accident, was not an “acute” medical concern and therefore not immediately coverable by public insurance. Miss Kerr would have to either put herself on a waiting list or pay for the procedure herself.
Naturally, she sought out a dentist to see how much the procedure to replace her missing teeth would cost, only to find that it was well beyond the price range of the average 20-year old — £12,000 (about $19,000). Try to imagine being 20 years old, with your whole life ahead of you, and your appearance has been suddenly transformed by a tragic accident. And then you’re told that you are neither a priority nor able to afford the medical service you need to recover.
Imagine how you would feel. Would you be able to leave the house? Would you be able to smile? What if every time you did it triggered the memory of this terrible accident that changed your life forever?
We often talk about self-image when we talk about dental implants or dental care more generally. Issues of self-confidence are different for everyone, but step outside from your own situation and put yourself in the shoes of Miss Kerr. Imagine the emotional toll that the accident had already taken on her and then the belief that she would have to suffer its consequences for a seemingly interminable amount of time.
Then, in a stunning turn of events, one Dr. Wynand de Jager reached out to Ms. Kerr and offered her an opportunity of a lifetime: after reading about her accident, he offered to fit her with new dental implants, free of charge.
See the difference:
What drove Dr. de Jager to do that? Compassion. Humanity. Respect for forces greater than his own. Rare traits, traits well worth emulating, no?
Where do these characteristics stem from? A passion for what you do. And what makes you passionate about something? The purpose it gives you by contributing to mission that’s much bigger than you. That speaks to me and that is why, to me, Dr. de Jager is a standard that we should all uphold ourselves to.
Fred Boettcher and the Day Brian Maixner’s Fortunes Changed
Brian Maixner was a waiter at Doo-Dah Diner, in Wichita, Kansas. Always cheerful, always a hard worker, his dental health issues were never an obstacle to his drive and will. But he had always hesitated to smile. Not only was he missing teeth, he was also suffering from painful bacterial infections that had plagued him since early childhood, and although he would have loved to correct these issues it simply wasn’t within his financial means.
He was about to get lucky:
Enter Fred Boettcher. Although an attorney, and not a dentist, Mr. Boettcher had owned several restaurants in the past and he understood how important appearance could be. Not for the sake of the customer, but for one’s own comfort and self-confidence — the emotions you feel when you talk and interact with others. It’s easy to dismiss these concerns if we haven’t felt them personally, but these emotions and beliefs can be crippling.
I once met a woman who was crying because she hadn’t been able to spend time with her newly born grandson. She could not even hold him in her arms, because he was afraid of her when she smiled. How would that make you feel?
The point is that, yes, our dental health does affect how we think of ourselves and how we interact with others. Fred Boettcher realized that, and he understood how important it was to feel like you could smile at your customers in a restaurant setting.
After eating his meal, Mr. Boettcher approached the diner’s manager. So impressed was he by Brian’s service, energy, and attitude that he offered to pay the $25,000 fee to take care of all his surgery fees.
How did Brian respond? He cried. There is no stronger emotion of appreciation and relief — relief from the weight of the fears and limiting beliefs that he had suffered from as a result of his condition.
Brian’s is truly a wonderfully inspiring story. One that I hope leaves a lasting impression on you, like it did on me.
The Service of Scott Shamblott
Hundreds of thousands of men and woman sacrificed years of their lives to fight for our country in countries far and wide. They don’t ask questions. They don’t whine. They just do what they need to do, and they deserve to be rewarded for that.
So thought Dr. Scott Shamblott, located in Hopkings, Minnesota, who decided that it was high time veterans were shown the respect they had earned and deserved. He decided to use his skills to give back to the people who had given him so much and set apart a day to provide veterans with the dental care they needed — whatever procedure was necessary — for free.
How did Dr. Shamblott found eligible patients? He teamed up with Yellow Ribbon to reach out to veterans whose insurance coverage didn’t extend to dental care. The results were truly amazing.
Larry Volk was one of the patients who took Dr. Shamblott up on his offer. As a Vietnam veteran, he had experienced a less than welcoming reception when he returned home after his tour. Tensions in the United States were high and public opinion on the war had fallen to great depths. “When I went under the Golden Gate on a ship, they were throwing stuff on me,” said Volk, speaking of his experience returning home from deployment.
The surprise, then, was his when Dr. Shamblott offered to extract nine highly infected free of cost, preparing him for a dental implant procedure. “The goal is false teeth,” said Larry. “I can eat steak again, popcorn, all kinds of food like that.” Food he hadn’t enjoyed in a very long time.
What I love about this story is that it shows that helping others doesn’t have to come at a great sacrifice. We all have different means. We’re not all able to give someone $25,000, but we can offer free services to those in need, even if it’s one day out of the year. And even if you’re not a dentist, it can be as simple as opening the door for someone, complementing them, or even just smiling. There are so many ways to contribute, and ultimately what truly matters isn’t the size, but the intent and the heart behind it.
These are stories of incredible people doing incredible things for others. I hope they inspire you as much as they inspire me.