The Ben Massel Dental Clinic of JF&CS changes the lives – and smiles – of underserved patients in the Atlanta area. As the most advanced free dental treatment facility in Georgia, the Clinic takes a holistic approach to overall health and helping clients who otherwise could not afford dental services. It takes a caring staff, dental residents and interns, and seasoned volunteer dentists and hygienists in the Atlanta area to provide the dental care patients need. June is Oral Health Month, and a great time to celebrate our volunteer dentists, residents and students.
“At the clinic, I get to work with some of the best-known dentists in the area, who I never would have been exposed to unless I was at a dental conference,” said Dr. Kalaria.” You get the opportunity to interact with a wide range of attendings and specialists and build a community.”
She went on to say that she loves the assistant team, saying: “The assistant team is one of my favorites that I have ever worked with. I connect with them genuinely and they are lively and fun and bring energy to the clinic.”
Dr. Chien agreed, and said, “The dental volunteers are always extremely supportive in making sure all patients are provided timely and excellent care. The patients may not always see the same volunteer dentist, but they always see the same staff at the front desk and the same dental assistants in the operatories. It is evident that these familiar faces put patients at ease and make the environment at Ben Massell a very pleasant one for clients.”
For patients at the Ben Massell Dental Clinic, there are many barriers to care when it comes to getting quality dental treatment.
“Patients at Ben Massell often reveal that they have been in pain for months or even years, because financial, transportation, language, education barriers have prevented them from getting care,” said Dr. Chien. “From the brief time I have been with Ben Massell, however, I have witnessed the dedication of the staff and volunteers to eliminate these barriers.”
“The clients are unbelievably appreciating of the care we provide,” said Dr. Kalaria. “We treat our patients for more than just the bare minimum. We want to go above and beyond, make dentures, and make sure you like the smile we make you, the color of the teeth, all of that. We understand that teeth are important for self-confidence. We don’t treat teeth like a luxury, but as a basic right.”
Dr. Chien went on to say that the Ben Massell Dental Clinic is concerned about not just patients’ teeth, but their overall health and wellbeing.
“There have been numerous occasions when patients in the dental chair confide in us about their struggles to find a job, medical care, or affordable housing,” she said. “As a dental resident at the clinic, I can immediately refer these patients to our team of on-site social workers and help patients find solutions to non-dental problems. It has been amazing to be able to learn from the volunteers as well as Ben Massell’s team of staff about providing compassionate and holistic care to underserved clients.”
Dr. Kalaria recalled a story about one of her patients in his 40s, and how his life was positively impacted by the Ben Massell Dental Clinic.
“He was in a car accident with an 18-wheeler, and he was left for dead on the side of the road,” she said. “His teeth were ruined, he lost his job and his house, and his relationship with his family was strained. It seemed like he had lost everything, including his teeth.”
Dr. Kalaria was the resident who took out this patient’s remaining teeth, as none of them were salvageable. She said he was apologizing the entire time about how “bad” his teeth were, saying “I’m so sorry I look like this,” and was “very discouraged and down.”
He was fitted and set up with dentures and is set to get his permanent implants soon. Today, Dr. Kalaria said he is an entirely different person.
“I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself,” she said. “In less than a year, he has worked on mending things with his family; they are even going on a vacation together soon. Every time we see him, he is happy, hugging all of us and shedding tears of joy. He calls me his guardian angel, and we all want the best for him.”
Dr. Kalaria graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a major in economics and served as a risk analyst for seven years before deciding she wanted to switch careers.
“I wanted to figure out a career where I had more work life balance, and I potentially want to be a mom,” Dr. Kalaria said. “I was also seeking a career that was more meaningful. There were a lot of factors to consider before I eventually settled on going to dental school.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Chien comes from a family of those in the healthcare field. Like the rest of her family, she is passionate about healthcare, but she is also an artist. She described art as “integral” to her life, ever since she first started taking classes in kindergarten.
“My search for a career in which I can combine my passion in health care and art landed me in dentistry,” Dr. Chien explained. “To be able to make art that is functional, aesthetic, and comfortable in people’s mouths has been very rewarding!”
The Ben Massell Dental Clinic is always looking for volunteer dentists and hygienists. To learn more about how you can make a difference like Dr. Chien and Dr. Kalaria, visit www.benmasselldentalclinic.org/volunteer.
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