Dental Day of Caring, a bright and cheery event

It was a bright, sunny day outside, Saturday, March 23. It was a bright, sunny day inside, too, since the facility at 505 E. Alcott is practically wall-to-wall windows. Also wall-to-wall that day were smiling, green-shirted volunteers, eagerly looking for ways to help in any way they could. In fact, at any moment, the volunteers outnumbered the patients waiting to be served.
The event at the Family Health Center (FHC) was called “The Dental Day of Caring.” Hundreds of local residents received free examinations, teeth cleaning, even free fillings and extractions in that one day. Ordinarily, the facility handles about one hundred patients per day. People were waiting in line as they opened at 7 a.m., and were scheduled to close at 8 p.m.
Felicia Anderson had a tooth cleaning and had a tooth capped. The hubbub of multiple conversations was accompanied by cheery songs from the '70s and '80s, heard over speakers. Fleetwood Mac crooned the magical “Rhiannon” and the Eagles sang “One of these Nights.” Some sang along. Then there was the irony of the song, “Hurts So Good,” by John Mellencamp. There was a definite party atmosphere.
We tried to get a picture of Felicia Anderson, of Gilbert St. She had just had a tooth cleaning and had a tooth capped that had been chipped since she was 13 years old. She said the exam and treatment had been a great experience. After thinking about it, she said a picture would be OK—“anything to help the Family Health Center.” Felicia had been third-in-line when she arrived at the facility at 5:51 a.m—more than an hour before the doors opened.
Felicia said that her family doctor had informed her about the Dental Day of Caring. “So many people have bad teeth...they’re doing a fantastic job...I am truly appreciative, more than you know.” She added that the money saved made a big difference.
We expected to see a lot of kids with toothy grins, but most kids are covered by Michigan’s “Healthy Kids Dental” program, so they don’t have to put off dental care, the way their uninsured parents do.  The Family Health Center also sends a mobile unit to schools, to provide care for students.
Two Mobile Dental Units serve the area, providing any service you could find at a typical dentist’s office. One of the units, which looks like a giant bookmobile, was stationed outside the FHC building, to provide extra space for dental care, Saturday.
We did, however, see one young person: Marwaha Jatin, a 6 1/2-year-old, waiting for a cleaning. He squirmed in his seat, covering his face, shy about being interviewed. He also offered “fake news,” claiming to be 8-1/2. His dad, Amit Kumar, was proud to show a picture Marwaha had drawn. Dad volunteered that they were mainly there, “because of all the chocolates that Marwaha’s grandmother gives him.” The two were in line for service, so we hope Marwaha only needed cleaning.
We were also amused by a tall, African-American man, who was all smiles, despite just receiving several fillings. We hoped that we could get his story on the record, but he said that would not be a good idea. Turns out, he had sneaked out of work to be there, and had to rush back before anyone noticed.
We likewise struck out with a lady who said she didn’t speak English. The fact that she was there, anyway, is a testimony to the effectiveness of the outreach effort for the program.
Meanwhile, Kristopher Rodgers, of West KL, was happy to speak with us. He said his godmother had told him about the Day. He had had a tooth extracted, but was able to speak clearly. He was very happy to have the work done free of charge. He said, “it’s the kind of thing you won’t go to get fixed on your own.”
Laura Capio was also happy about the event. She said she lives in southwest Kalamazoo, and she only found out about the Day by accident. “I had to pay $400 for new tires, then went to Loaves and Fishes, and saw the announcement on the bulletin board. It was an answer to a prayer. I called to register the same day.” Laura had to have a tooth pulled on each side of her mouth, but said, “I didn’t feel a thing--only pressure. They were very professional.”
We were shown through the clinic area by FHC President and CEO Denise Crawford. “We have over 250 volunteers, from many organizations, such as Links Inc. and United Way. Twenty area dentists have volunteered, as well as fourth-year dental students from the University of Michigan. We’ve served 360 patients, as of 3 p.m.” On a typical day, the Center serves 100 dental patients. On Monday tthere was no final count, but if they served 360 as of 3 p.m., the Center was on its way to serving more than 550 patients—well over the goal of 450.
Denise Crawford, FHC President and CEO“Many adults who don’t have dental insurance can’t afford to take care of their teeth, and that poses a big risk to their overall health,” Crawford added. Most people don’t realize that good dental health has an impact on the rest of the body. Oral bacteria can cause inflammation and infections that can lead to heart disease or stroke. Gingivitis is a risk to pregnant women and can cause premature birth, or low birth weight. Studies show poor oral health can also lead to diabetes, kidney disease, dementia, and many other health issues.
“Family Health Center focuses on the health needs of the underserved, whoever they are and whatever their circumstances,” Crawford had previously said. “No one, no matter what their situation, should have to suffer from lack of dental care. That’s what makes Dental Day of Caring so important.”
After receiving treatment, patients were directed to the north end of the facility, to receive dental hygiene packs, including a free toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss. There were also packs for patients who had had extractions, which included an ice pack and gauze inserts, as well, according to Viveca Fairbanks-Henderson, the Senior Director of North American Execution in Engineering at Kellogg.
The routine was for patients to sign up in tents that were set up in the lower, north parking lot. They would go for their exam and cleaning. If they needed additional work, they were sent back to re-register at the tents. The idea was to be sure that no one had to wait long for their turn, so they would wait in line for each separate treatment they received. However, the line was never long, and it moved quickly.
Family Health Center is a non-profit 501(c)(3) Federally Qualified Health Center serving the citizens of Kalamazoo County. FHC provides quality health care to some 30,000 historically underserved patients, ensuring that all people who enter our facilities are treated with dignity, respect and a welcoming spirit. FHC’s goal is to create a “medical home” for families, children & adults who seek answers to their health care needs. On the web: On Instagram: @familyhealthcenterKalamazoo

Read more articles by Gerry Hoffmann.

Gerry Hoffmann has lived on the same corner in Edison since 1969 and is past president of the Board of the Edison Neighborhood Association.