Spotlighting charitable efforts by dental laboratory professionals
The dental laboratory community is filled with people who give back, whether it is providing free dental work for those in need, using the resources of a successful business to make a difference, or simply devoting time and effort for selfless causes. In the following pages, we put the spotlight on three dental laboratory professionals who give back to the community in extraordinary ways and hope that their stories inspire their peers to follow suit. Audrey Jarrell, CDT, discusses how her passion for volunteering has grown over the course of the past decade and has not been hampered by a bout with cancer. Assen and Dani Dobrikov, meanwhile, have never forgotten their humble beginnings and now donate their time and services to numerous charities such as the Lost Boys of Sudan. Dave Dorman, CDT, stumbled upon a community in need while honeymooning in Belize and has returned 10 times for the Belize Mission Project.
In this article, we also highlight a charity in the dental industry that welcomes more laboratory participation. For those in search of a worthwhile charity to support, Oral Health America’s Beth Truett has several opportunities for laboratories to contribute—from writing articles for its website to participating in informational sessions for senior citizens to volunteering for the annual Gala & Benefit.
An Addiction to Volunteering
Even cancer doesn't stop Jarrell’s charitable efforts
By Jason Mazda
Fix your teeth, or else.” That was the ultimatum leveled at the young waitress in her 20s by her manager. Missing several anterior teeth, she had already been fired from two other restaurants for the same reason, but she did not have dental insurance or sufficient funds for restorative work. The young woman was desperate when she arrived at the North Carolina Missions of Mercy clinic in Salisbury, North Carolina, where she met Audrey Jarrell, CDT. Jarrell fabricated a beautiful partial denture, and the young woman’s smile when they snapped a picture together afterward showed more than a few new teeth. It showed new life.
Jarrell has been volunteering at Missions of Mercy events around North Carolina for 6 years. There are approximately five of these North Carolina Dental Society-sponsored events each year, with the largest being held in Charlotte, where approximately 800 volunteers serve more than 2,000 patients. About half of the volunteers are dental professionals, many of them laboratory technicians like Jarrell.
“It’s a fabulous feeling,” Jarrell says. “It was not just that waitress. At every clinic, we see patients like that. The situation lifts us all up and takes us to a wonderful place of enjoyment.”
The Right Kind of Addiction
The first time Jarrell felt that way was approximately a decade ago, when a friend invited her to volunteer at a non-dental event.
“After that first time, I did more and more in different areas, and it became more and more fun,” she says. “I become addicted. Volunteering never lets you down. It always keeps you happy. I see the crime, hunger, and sorrow in the world today, and the one way I can make a stand is to volunteer and give fully and completely to someone who will never be able to repay me.”
Jarrell’s other favorite charities include the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry and the Safe Harbor Rescue Mission in Hickory, North Carolina. The former involves spending 1 week each year working with women from the Swannanoa Valley Correctional Center for Women and putting roofs on houses for elderly people; the latter is a women’s day shelter whose fundraisers include a competition called the Bedspread Derby in which people race beds across a parking lot.
Her favorite, however, is the Missions of Mercy. When laboratory technicians began becoming involved with that project 6 years ago, Jarrell was excited to be able to use her special skillset to give back.
“It was exciting,” she says. “Most people can help install a roof or a floor, but possessing dental expertise and skilled hands is special, so if there is an overlap of activities then I focus on Missions of Mercy.”
Jarrell works mostly in the triage area at Missions of Mercy clinics. She helps dentists assess candidates for partial dentures and plans the restorations, taking into consideration the limitations on time and resources.
“Our goal is to help the largest number of people possible, rather than just one person,” she says. “We try to keep it under five teeth. Sometimes, a patient might be missing only four anterior maxillary teeth, but their lower arch is touching their papilla, and I can note that they need a metal framework to avoid the restoration breaking in a week. I know which technicians are there and what our capabilities are. We get through triage early because we need to get the models poured and dried. We start bending wires later Friday, and then we create partials on Friday evening and into Saturday morning to seat before lunch Saturday.”
The collaborative effort with the dentists in treatment planning is beneficial for all parties.
“The dentist feels comfortable working more quickly because the technician is there to offer input and ensure that the necessary records are being taken accurately,” Jarrell says. “The technicians benefit from having one of our own present for all stages of treatment. We also get to see how the cases end up, which is inspirational because in the laboratory we do not get to see the patients.”
Jarrell and her fellow volunteers put the same amount of effort and care into the restorations as if they were being paid premium prices.
“The reward is the wonderful, positive feeling you get from volunteering,” she says. “That positivity brings on more positive actions and other positive people around you.”
Fighting Through Personal Struggles
Jarrell’s positivity was put to the test, however, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2016. Fortunately, it was identified early, and after a bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy she says she has been given a 95% chance of beating it. She says she “absolutely” attributes this to good karma.
“I felt I was given the gift of early intervention,” Jarrell says. “It’s just another little bump in the road. Nothing is a big deal unless you make it a big deal.”
Jarrell keeps working, and she keeps volunteering. She takes vitamins meant to help keep her cell levels up during the chemotherapy treatments. She has been drinking protein shakes and eating healthy foods. She scheduled her surgery to fall the week after the Eastern Conference of Dental Laboratories but three weeks before the Charlotte Missions of Mercy event, allowing her to attend both with sufficient recovery time.
“I am not letting it ruin my life or control me,” she says. “The disease is not in charge; I am. I will win in the end.”
In February, she traveled to Chicago for Lab Day. It was an exhausting few days, and she had to sit down to rest frequently, but it was important to her to show her friends in the industry—many of whom have followed her story on Facebook—that she is OK.
“I wanted to see my friends and hug them,” Jarrell says. “They have supported me during these long months. It really means a lot and helps me get through this.”
The sixth of her eight chemotherapy treatments was scheduled for March 31, and the last is scheduled for mid-May. By continuing to volunteer through the exhausting treatments, Jarrell hopes to set an example for others.
“A need always exists for more volunteers,” she says. “There is more of a need from patients than we can fulfill.”
Frequently, she says, patients are turned away near the end of the Missions of Mercy clinics because there are already so many people in line.
“It could get you down to see that,” Jarrell says, “but it just drives me to work harder and to encourage more people to join our efforts.” All it takes is one time to become addicted to volunteering, she says.
“I tell people to just give us a chance and come to one event,” she says. “Find a way to make some time for it. We will show you how we can change lives in a positive way, and we will see how you feel after that.”
Paying Back in Kindness
Two techs return smiles in their adopted country
By Pam Johnson
There is no mistaking the utter happiness and appreciation in the voices of Assen and Dani Dobrikov as they describe their journey from communist-ruled Bulgaria to fulfill their dream to come to America. It was 1988 and both had just graduated from the Sofia College for Dental Technology with 4-year BA degrees in dental technology. The People’s Republic of Bulgaria was—like most satellite countries of the Soviet-controlled Eastern Bloc at that time—in the midst of political change as discontent and turmoil began to loosen the grip of the Soviet Union, resulting in the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.
Seeking to create a better life for himself and Dani, Assen was first to leave Bulgaria. After graduation, he worked for a year in his homeland before immigrating to Austria where the plan was to find a job and become a permanent resident. Doing so would allow him to immigrate to the US through normal immigration channels. In 1990, Assen came to the US. Seven months later Dani made the journey to America to join him and they married in February of 1992. Settling in Tempe, Arizona, they set up their first laboratory in the laundry room of their home in 1993.
“We spoke no English when we arrived,” Assen says. “Fortunately, clinical terminology is rooted in Latin, and in our first year of college we took many of the same courses as first-year dentists. This background helped us communicate with our clients.” To build their clientele, they went from practice to practice showing clinicians their meticulous attention to detail and commitment to perfection in the models and restorations they had fabricated. They also began taking courses, following the philosophies of such notables as Drs. Peter Dawson, Frank Spear, David Hornbrook, and Gordon Christensen, and along the way were mentored by fellow laboratory owners such as the late Josh Green, who was “like a father to us.”
“We built our business from scratch, working 20-hour days, 7 days a week, 365 days a year,” Assen says. “And we are so thankful to those in this industry who helped us realize our dream.” As their business grew, they began hiring technicians and in 1998 moved the business out of their home to a larger rental space. Eight years later, they built the 18,000-square-foot laboratory and education center they currently occupy with their 85 technicians. Today, Dani Dental is the largest dental laboratory in Arizona.
“We have been so fortunate that it is only natural that we give back to our community and to an industry that has given us so much,” Dani says. And the list of charities, community fundraisers, and dental-related nonprofit events that they support is extensive—from Arizona Missions of Mercy and Skyline Wish Builders to Smiles Beyond the Bars.
One charity in particular touches their hearts—the Lost Boys of Sudan. In 2001, nearly 4,000 Sudanese boys were brought to the US by the International Rescue Committee and settled in cities across the country. The boys started their journey in 1987 when the civil war in Sudan drove nearly 20,000 Sudanese boys and young men, some as young as 6 and 7 years old, on a treacherous journey that would take them 1,000 miles on foot from their villages and families to seek refuge in Ethiopia in order to escape death or induction into the army. In 1991, war broke out in Ethiopia, sending the young refugees fleeing again on foot, this time into northern Kenya. Out of the original 20,000 “lost boys,” only 10,000 survived.
“These young men went through unspeakable hardships. The tribal culture in Sudan has a tradition of removing the four lower and four upper anterior teeth as a rite of passage,” Assen says. “Of course, when they arrived here in the US, this condition became an issue of self-esteem for them. By volunteering our services to help restore those teeth, we are helping to change their lives.”
Giving others a new lease on life is also the goal of their support for Smiles Beyond the Bars, a volunteer program to help restore the smiles of formerly incarcerated people whose teeth have been compromised by the effects of drugs, poverty, or prison. “This is their chance to become successful members of society and having a great smile is a vital part of that rehabilitation,” Assen says. “We are helping to give people back their smiles and their lives.”
Dani and Assen have no limit to the number of people and charitable organizations they support. And part of that support is helping family members realize their dream of coming to America. Over the years, Assen and Dani have brought their parents to the US and most recently Assen’s brother and his family.
“For us, each day in America is a gift,” Dani says. “Our families never dreamed they could make it to America. And now we can make our dream their dream.”
The Belize Project
One man’s 10-year mission to help the less fortunate
By Pam Johnson
It was while honeymooning in the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye off the coast of Belize that laboratory owner and technician Dave Dorman began what is now his 10th year of a mission to help the poorest citizens of this Central American country.
Curious to understand how dental care is administered in another country, Dorman contacted Dr. Wil Lala, an American dentist who had moved to Belize years earlier with his wife, a nurse. Dorman had 11 years experience in the military, trained first as a dental assistant and then later as a dental hygienist during his stint with the Air Force, and today operates a one-person orthodontic laboratory, Perfect Touch, in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was Lala who introduced him to the Belize Mission Project and its founder Dr. Frank Whipps.
A few months after Dorman and his wife returned from their honeymoon, Dr. Lala called to let him know that the dental technician who was supposed to join the volunteer team that October had backed out. He asked if Dorman would be interested in taking his place.
“I was still paying for my wedding and honeymoon and was concerned about raising enough money to make the trip,” said Dorman. But with the help of family, friends, the church, and his dental clients, he raised the funds necessary for his flight to Belize and for the week of expenses he would incur during his stay on the island, a funding struggle that he continues to face each year.
Belize is a poor country. With an unemployment rate hovering around 13% and a minimum wage for manual workers currently standing at $1.65 per hour, it is not surprising that an estimated 41% of the nation’s 367,000 residents live below the poverty line and can’t afford the dental and medical treatment they need. In addition, more than 50% of the population live in remote or rural areas of the country with no access to dental or medical care.
“Although our home base is the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, we send teams of dentists and technicians to areas of the mainland and out to remote villages throughout the mainland that request our services,” says Dorman. “The local airline helps us fly the equipment and team members to Belize City where local volunteers meet us in vans or trucks to transport us to the villages.”
The annual two-week October mission attracts 100+ volunteers from all corners of the US and Canada and typically comprises some 50 dental professional volunteers rotating in and out for each of the two weeks. Now in its 26th year, the project is well known to the people of Ambergris Caye and they know exactly when the volunteers will arrive, lining up as early as 7:00 am that first Monday morning for needed care. Although the mission has its own portable dental chairs and the preventive and restorative materials needed (donated by manufacturers), the volunteer dentists bring their own handpieces, anesthesia, and hand instruments. Over the years, Dorman has been able to better outfit the laboratory setup by acquiring used laboratory equipment and donating it to the project, storing it on the island so it will be readily available each year.
From extractions and flippers to full dentures and partials, the teams work long days to accommodate the flood of patients. Last year, during the two-week volunteer project, the dental volunteers provided fluoride varnish treatments to more than 5,500 children, extracted 361 teeth, and fabricated 540 restorations as well as completed 728 dental exams and 131 teeth cleanings.
“For those coming to us with missing teeth, we concentrate our efforts on restoring our patients’ anterior region to give them back their smiles and confidence.”
The mission also recruits physicians nurses, audiologists, and other medical professionals to help with immediate medical needs. And, an extraordinary effort, each year the medical and dental volunteers donate out-of-pocket money to buy food that they distribute to families living in the poorest villages.
“Last year we raised $5,000 to buy food to distribute to these families in need,” says Dorman. “We call it the Rice and Beans Program.” The year before the group raised so much money they couldn’t spend it all on food. They donated the remaining funds to a scholarship fund that provides a local child each year with money needed to help pay for his or her education.
The spirit of the mission has also inspired at least one local resident to pursue an education in the field of dentistry.
“The son of one of the local ladies who for years has been volunteering her time to help us with administrative duties began to come after school to help his mother and became interested in the work I was doing,” says Dorman. “He really showed a talent for bending wire for the partials we were making and began helping out every year, from bending wire and pouring acrylic to trimming partials.” This year Dorman found out that his young protégé was accepted into school on the Yucatan peninsula in a field linked to dentistry. “It has been and continues to be an amazing life-changing experience.”
OHA Welcomes Laboratories
Ways technicians can contribute to program for senior citizens
By Jason Mazda
Hundreds of people from across the dental industry packed the Navy Pier’s Aon Ballroom in Chicago, Illinois, on a Wednesday night in late February with the common purpose of raising money for Oral Health America (OHA). OHA’s Annual Gala & Benefit, for which planning begins in June every year, garnered more than $500,000 to benefit OHA programs such as Smiles Across America® and the Wisdom Tooth Project ®. OHA serves more than a half-million children and has given more than $3 million in grant money to community organizations. Despite the impressive numbers, OHA President and CEO Beth Truett aspires to do even more to improve oral healthcare in the US.
“It’s an incredibly philanthropic industry,” says Truett, who is in her ninth year with OHA.
One way Truett would like to expand OHA’s reach is to involve more laboratories in the organization’s efforts—the most obvious ones involving the Wisdom Tooth Project. OHA once served primarily children, but in 2008 the board moved to serve older adults as well.
“Today, OHA is a recognized leader in oral health for older adults in the areas of advocacy, providing education, and improving health literacy,” Truett says, “and in 2013 we unveiled the first website dedicated to oral health for older adults, toothwisdom.org.”
OHA has found that some of the most pressing questions senior citizens have about oral health involve their dentures. Truett says laboratory professionals can contribute by writing informational articles for toothwisdom.org.
“Providing information on behalf of the dental laboratory community that we could format in plain language for consumers would be very helpful,” she says. “We always offer a byline, so if someone contributes a story then there is a credit to that company, and the website is used by consumers, caregivers, and professionals.”
OHA also organizes educational sessions called “Tooth Wisdom: Get Smart About Your Mouth” at senior centers and other places where older people congregate. The sessions are purely informational and currently feature dental hygienists, but soon they also will include dentists and nurse practitioners, Truett says, and laboratory technicians also could become involved eventually.
“Having a laboratory technician join a hygienist or nurse practitioner to answer questions about dentures would be very beneficial,” she says.
Of course, monetary and other tangible contributions are always welcomed by OHA, and volunteering at the OHA gala is another opportunity to help. The event involves the entire industry and is held the night before the Chicago Dental Society’s Midwinter Meeting each year.
“More laboratory people are welcome to volunteer,” Truett says. “It is a very rewarding event.”