Giving Back, Pankey Style
A. Keith Phillips, DDS
One of the tenets of the Pankey Philosophy is that of giving back to society. Harkening to Aristotle’s philosophy of what makes for a happy and ethical life, professionals experience a sense of fulfillment when they have opportunity to give back to society and help others in need, to the best of their ability, without monetary reward. Part of the L.D. Pankey Dental Foundation’s mission is to help the underserved.
Imagine you are a single mother, living in any city in the United States, struggling to support three children. You are working hard—keeping food on the table and clothes on your children’s backs is about all you can manage. Unfortunately, you earn just enough to keep your family from being eligible for Medicaid. So routine or even emergency dental care is simply out of the question, As our economy struggles, this story becomes more and more common in cities and towns around the country.
The L. D. Pankey Dental Foundation, the governing board of the nonprofit Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education, recently began a new project targeting underserved people in our country who find access to dental treatment a challenge. The concept for this project is based upon the philosophy espoused by Dr. L. D. Pankey and expressed best in the Latin phrase “quid pro quo.” Long the motto of the L. D. Pankey Dental Foundation, this short phrase carries with it a powerful charge. Various translations abound, for example: “To whom much is given, much is expected,” “one thing for another,” and “I give to you so that you may give to others.” However translated, the challenge presented by Dr. Pankey is clear. Dentistry provides each of us with a wonderful living, a status in society second to none, and the knowledge and skills with which we can positively affect the lives of those we serve in both tangible and intangible ways.
The challenge of any society, any city or town from Manhattan to Mutengene, Africa, is to find ways to relieve the suffering of those less fortunate—those members of our society who cannot afford the “good things in life,” those who have to choose daily between food for their children and medical or dental care. Dr. Pankey said that the key to successful treatment planning is to find the plan that best fits the patient’s circumstances, temperament, and objectives – and this holds true for all patients, both wealthy and poor.
In keeping with Dr. Pankey’s philosophical approach to both life and dentistry, the L. D. Pankey Dental Foundation recently developed an opportunity for dentists across the country to “give back” to those in need of dental services. The first of many clinics was held in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 25-26, 2008 (Figure 1). To support this clinic, we teamed with the Giving Hand Foundation to provide equipment for up to ten dentists, dental assistants, and dental hygienists for providing free care to needy residents from the Atlanta area. Four dental companies contributed equipment and materials: Brassler, Dentrix, Henry Schein, and Oral Arts Laboratory in Atlanta. Their contributions were very much appreciated.
Dr. Donald R. Rozema, a dentist whose practice is in the Sandy Springs area, coordinated this project (Figure 2). Patients came from all over the metro-Atlanta area to the Mount Vernon Baptist Church of Atlanta for cleanings, extractions, fillings, x-rays, and examinations. For Dr. Rozema and his wife, Jean, and daughter, Mary Elizabeth, this was a new experience. Joining the Rozemas were Dr. George Andrews, Dr. Bruce Carter, Dr. Elizabeth Caughey, Dr. Clayton Davis, Dr. Robert Fryer, Dr. Darrell Gilbert, Dr. Tim Hall, Dr. Robert Hallman, Dr. Don Harvey, Dr. Dan Hodges, Dr. Gary Iskol, Dr. Gail McLaurin, Dr. Kathryn Miller, Dr. Donna Thomas Moses, Dr. J. Benjamin Patrick, Dr. Randy Phillips, Dr. Richard Remigailo, Dr. Mark Sayeg, Dr. Chrissy Scott, hygienist Kimberly Wilson, myself, and additional staff volunteers. In all we examined and treated 145 patients over the two days.
“This has been one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had because of the willingness of everyone to jump in and help out, and the gratitude of all of the people we provided care for. I now have a whole new perspective on my profession and the dental needs of my community,” said Dr. Rozema.
Melissa Sutko, one of the dental assistants who volunteered for both days, had this to say about her experience, “This has been the hardest work I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding. No matter how long it takes, I’m staying until I know everyone feels better.”
Making an event such as this happen requires support from and coordination with numerous people and organizations. Logistically, perhaps, the greatest challenge is making sure all of the supplies are available. Given the numbers of patients treated over the 2 days, this is no small task.
J. Al Cuellar, a sales representative with Henry Schein Dental, coordinated the donation of many of the supplies and much of the equipment that made this clinic possible. “It has always been the goal of Henry Schein Dental to respond when called upon to support important projects. We saw an opportunity here to help out and were simply willing to step up to the plate to help make it happen,” said Mr. Cueller.
Many of our patients were residents of the Mary Hall Freedom House drug rehabilitation program in Atlanta. One young lady arrived on Friday morning with several badly decayed and painful teeth (Figure 3). Initially, the treating dentist was able to extract several back teeth to eliminate most of her discomfort. However, she had dark, very visible decayed areas between most of her upper front teeth. Unable to stay beyond the time her ride returned to the Mary Hall Freedom House, she went to great effort to find a ride back to us the next day. On day two, Dr. Elizabeth Caughey restored this patient’s front teeth (Figure 4). As she left amidst tears of joy and hugs all around, she said, “This has changed my life. I can hold my head up and smile at people again. I can make it now.”
On to Annapolis
Most recently, the second Pankey Dental Access Days clinic was held in Annapolis, Maryland, on August 1-2. This time, the clinic was hosted by Dr. Denison Byrne of Baltimore and his wife and partner, Dr. Nancy Ward. Joining them were dentists, dental students, hygienists, and dental assistants from the Annapolis/Baltimore area.
As our truck and van loaded with equipment and supplies passed through the historic streets of Annapolis, with its upscale restaurants, art galleries, and shops, the road crew arriving from North Carolina was lulled into thinking this community was far too prosperous to have people with tremendous dental needs. The turn onto West Washington Street proved our initial evaluation to be incorrect. As the truck approached the Stanton Community Center, a facility steeped in coastal heritage dating back to 1865, it became obvious that not only were we arriving in a community with significant dental needs, but into a group that was welcoming us with open arms. Volunteers from the Stanton Community Center began unloading the truck and retrieving tables, chairs, fans, and extension cords from all over the facility. The excitement among the volunteers was evident as they assisted in setting up the equipment and unpacking the supplies.
The Stanton Community Center currently houses a modern two-chair dental clinic staffed by volunteers. The dental clinic, started by local oral surgeon Dr. Neil Sullivan, and coordinated by Cheryl Parrella, operates 2 days a week. Unfortunately, with an all-volunteer staff and limited schedule, the clinic maintains a waiting list of several hundred patients much of the time. The goal of the Pankey Dental Access Days clinic was to address the needs of as many patients on this waiting list as possible—and that we did! The Pankey volunteers provided services to 167 patients at an estimated value of $106,752 during the 2- day clinic! In keeping with the Pankey Philosophy, our dental volunteers were asked to be as comprehensive as possible in the care they provided for these patients. This was, in part, made possible by the volunteers from the Stanton Center Clinic who had worked diligently to ensure that many of our patients had already completed the exam and treatment planning process when the PDAD clinic began.
The emotional highlight of the day occurred when a patient from the "Helping Out Mission,” a local drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility where Dr. Nancy Ward volunteers, presented for extraction of all of his front teeth. Sam (not his real name) told his dentist/volunteer, Dr. Gary Goodman and assistant Renee O’Rourke, that he “thought he would need dentures” (Figure 5). After just a few hours of skillful handiwork by Dr. Goodman and team (Figure 6), Sam picked up a mirror and grinned. “I got a whole new smile. I am just in awe! What a privilege to be part of this program,” exclaimed Sam. Sam, a recent graduate of the Helping Out Mission, currently serves as a leader/counselor at the mission and hopes now to return to the other 400 or so residents in the program “no longer afraid to smile.” Sam left with a tear in his eye and a smile on his face saying over and over: “I still can’t believe it was done...A gift to me!”
Not all of the patients treated at the Pankey Dental Access Days clinics have stories as dramatic or as visible as the two stories above. However, they all have stories, and they all have needs—some physical, some emotional—but all very real. To a person, each volunteer has left each of the Pankey Dental Access Days Clinics knowing in their heart they have truly used their dental skills to “give back” to the people in their area who would otherwise continue to struggle with limited access to quality dental care.
Join the Effort
The L. D. Pankey Dental Foundation is currently seeking corporations, agencies, individuals, and groups to join them in this endeavor. It is hoped and expected that, as dentists from around the country become more aware of its presence, the Foundation will be able to provide the equipment, supplies, and Pankey-trained dentists to host several of these clinics all over the United States.
“We encourage all corporations and organizations serving the dental industry to join us in this important effort,” said Tony Trujillo, the CEO of The Pankey Institute. “Contributions of goods and services, as well as financial support, will ensure that we can reach more of those who need our help the most,” he added.
About the Author
A. Keith Phillips, DDS
Winston–Salem, North Carolina