The Smile was Free, But the Hug was Priceless

By Dr. Paul Palo

As I stood with a badly aching back and feet that felt as if they had been beaten from continuously standing for 12 hours two days straight on a concrete floor, a woman appeared and briskly walked toward me. Her look was determined and a little concerned.

First, let me explain my location: I was at the Lee County Civic Center Arena. This is where I’ve just spent three days volunteering for the Florida Dental Association Foundation’s (FDA Foundation) fourth annual Florida Mission of Mercy (FLA-MOM) dental clinic. Last weekend, me and my fellow dentists, hygienists, assistants, laboratory technicians and lay volunteers provided nearly 2,000 patients with more than $1.7 million worth of dentistry at no charge to them. Hard work? You bet it is. But worth every ache and blister.

So, back to the distressed woman who approached me. I was the lead volunteer in charge of overseeing dental triage, so I was frequently singled out by many people with questions and concerns. This young woman certainly looked concerned. She introduced herself as an advocate for a group of people staying in a drug addiction treatment facility in Naples. Dr. Leo Cullinan had arranged to bus them over to our event to take advantage of the treatment we were providing. She explained that one of her charges, a 24-year-old young woman, had come in the day before with many painful, bad teeth. It was determined that her remaining teeth were so badly decayed, none could be saved. She was taken to oral surgery where a skilled surgeon removed her remaining teeth. The caregiver’s reason for concern was because she could sense the despair in this young woman’s eyes at now not having any teeth to present herself with for future employment. I calmly explained that our clinic had no provisions to make immediate dentures, but she was not deterred. So, at this point, I brought in Dr. Cullinan to see if there were any available resources in Naples to help this young woman out. And that’s where I left her — in Dr. Cullinan’s capable hands. I moved on to other problems that needed to be solved and completely forgot about the situation.

Fast-forward 24 hours to Saturday afternoon, when I was helping break down the clinical equipment and box it up to transport out when again, who do I see but the advocate bounding straight for me — this time with a huge smile on her face.  She thanked me profusely for helping the young woman the day before, and told me that due to Dr. Cullinan’s persistence, she was fitted for a same-day denture courtesy of Dr. Reza Iranmanesh, our wonderful lead prosthodontist. “This will change her life!” she proudly exclaimed as my eyes began to mist over. She then embraced me in a wonderful heartfelt hug of thanks —  more payment than I ever expected, but so gladly accepted.

If you’re looking to help change the lives of so many in need as well as receive much more payment than you would ever get in a typical week at the office, I urge you to join us in Orlando in March 2019 for the FDA Foundation’s next FLA-MOM. It will change your life, too.

 

Dr. Palo is a member of the FDA Board of Trustees and an alternate to the American Dental Association 17th District Delegation. He is a general dentist in Winter Haven, Fla. and can be reached at ppalo@bot.floridadental.org.

 

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