Spotlighting charitable efforts in the dental laboratory profession
Every April, Inside Dental Technology tells the stories of dental laboratory professionals who give back to the community, using whatever resources are at their disposal to help those in need. This year, we shine the light not only on those giving back to their overall communities, as in the case of David Geffre's work with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry's Give Back a Smile program, but also on those helping people in need within the dental laboratory profession. Victor Castro, CDT, witnessed acts of true friendship when he was unable to work for 3 months due to an illness; Hakjoo Savercool's family has been the beneficiary of extraordinary fundraising efforts after her untimely passing; and countless technicians are helped by the free educational programs offered by Douglas J. Frye, CDT. In all of these cases, it is the hope of those who donate their time, money, and skills that others in the dental laboratory profession are inspired to give back in similar ways.
Returning the Favor
Technicians give back to the laboratory community
By Janene Mecca Parker
There is no doubt that the dental laboratory community is unique. Maybe it's something about the specialized blend of technology, artistry, and science that bonds dental technicians more closely than people in many other fields. Maybe it's the history of one-person laboratory owners whose long-term viability required reaching out to colleagues, especially in times of need. Whatever the reason, technicians near and far can attest to the true sense of kinship within this industry.
All the following stories of giving back-whether coming to the aid of a friend in crisis, helping a close colleague's family, or sharing knowledge for advancement of the craft-are a testament to what makes this community of skilled artists and business owners so special.
Heart and Soul
The story of Victor Castro, CDT, includes not only his own struggle with cancer surgery, recovery, and finding a new lease on life, but also the commitment of his fellow dental technicians to helping a friend in need. His journey began only one year ago this month, upon his return from a trip to Colombia, when he got his regular health checkup. But the results were not routine. A stress test and echosonogram of his heart showed a possible blood clot. A subsequent CT scan revealed a thrombus inside Castro's heart that was caused by renal carcinoma. "They had to put me in the hospital that day," says Castro, owner of Studio-280 in Houston, Texas. "My life changed after that."
He was scheduled for extensive open-heart surgery to remove the cancer from his body just 4 days later.
In addition to Castro's immediate health problems and impending surgery, he was faced with uncertainty about his laboratory. His one-man studio would be sitting unattended for months during his recovery.
"I couldn't support my business and my family for 3 months without working," he says.
Fortunately, a friend stepped in to help: Bobby Williams, CDT, owner of Synergy Ceramics Dental Studio in Plano, Texas.
"Bobby Williams flew in from Dallas as soon as my wife told him about my situation. He took care of my laboratory from Day One, working on cases and making sure that my business did not suffer from my absence. It was amazing," remembers Castro, still emotional with gratitude. "Two days before the surgery, we were FaceTiming about my cases. I explained everything to him."
"There was never any hesitation," says Williams. "This was about how quickly could we help Victor and his wife on the business side, as they had more than enough to worry about in their personal lives."
Williams started calling other industry friends from around the country—Peter Pizzi, MDT, CDT; Javier Vasquez, DMD, CDT; Joshua Polansky, MDC; and more—and divided cases among the dental technicians who offered time out of their busy schedules to help. Henry Tang, CDT, another fellow technician and friend in Houston, also supported Castro from the start.
"Unlike some competitors in other professions," Polansky says, "we call on each other when we need help. When times are tough, especially for a one-person dental laboratory, you need to put your money where your mouth is."
When Williams returned to Dallas, he worked with Castro's brother, Memo, in Houston to delegate and coordinate cases for almost 2 months during Victor's recovery.
"It still hits me … all they did for me," Castro says, moved by the outpouring of support. "My friends did all these cases, and they never expected anything from me. I had all this stress about the surgery but never had to worry about the office. Bobby and Memo had everything under control."
Knowing that his business was in good hands, Castro was able to focus solely on his health. His surgery was a success, removing the cancer from both his heart and his kidney. For the first 2 months, Castro was under doctor's orders to stay out of his laboratory completely to avoid any stress. The third month, he was only allowed to look, without working on any cases.
"Everybody was there for me," he says. "There are good people in this industry. Everyone was very understanding. I love my friends."
In the meantime, many of Castro's dentist clients also showed their faith and loyalty to him by scheduling some of their cases for months ahead, waiting for him to return. "It was amazing for them to hold all these cases for me to come back, despite not knowing if I would come back or not," Castro recalls. Local periodontist Wesam Salha, DDS, supported him throughout his recovery. Even Castro's lecturing engagements were rescheduled, rather than cancelled outright.
"We're in this business for the money, but when something happened to me, the money didn't matter. My situation touched those close to me," he says. "They weren't clients or colleagues anymore; they were my friends. It's a good feeling to have."
Since his full recovery, Castro has a new perspective on life. "I realized I have to take care of myself and my family first and then my business," he says. "As technicians, we always put ourselves last, but we have to make time to take care of ourselves. I'm always asking my technician friends if they're taking care of themselves. Stress can kill us."
He has taken charge of his own health, too, and trains with his wife and daughter. Castro is currently preparing for his first Half Ironman triathalon (1.5-mile swim, 56-mile cycling race, 13.1-mile run) alongside Salha and seven other friends.
"I'm trying to carry people with me on my journey," Castro says, "and be an inspiration for my friends and family. I believe what happened to me was a wake-up call for me and those around me."
Even under different circumstances, the dental community rallies to help colleagues and their families in times of need. This is the case of the late Hakjoo Savercool, a ceramist who was highly regarded for her artistry and dedication. Though she lived and worked in California, she collaborated with clients around the country, and many have come to her family's aid since her tragic passing.
"I was so impressed by Hakjoo's work on my own veneers that my dentist referred her to me," says Adamo Notarantonio, DDS. "She did porcelain work for me for 12 years. She was very hard-working and probably the most talented person I have ever seen in this industry."
Because Savercool worked alone, she kept her client list small-perhaps only seven or eight dentists. "If you asked any one of us, Hakjoo definitely changed our practices in terms of what we were able to deliver to our patients," Notorantonio says. "She made us look like rock stars."
Jorge Blanco, DDS, adds, "She did this with a spirit of caring and unselfishness that exemplified not only her love of what she did but also for the people she served."
Savercool was a single mother and sole supporter of three children as well as caregiver for her sick mother, Notarantonio says. Despite her personal challenges, she was known for working tirelessly to support her family.
According to Notarantonio, in late 2015, Savercool was working in her laboratory when she suddenly went blind, and at the hospital she was diagnosed with Stage-IV adenocarcinoma (lung cancer) that had spread to her brain. That's when her 2-year fight began. Despite some success in treatment, the cancer was aggressive, and her battle ended January 13, 2018. She was 51 years old.
Notorantonio manages a GoFundMe campaign to raise money on behalf of Savercool's family, but he says he's just one of the dentists and colleagues who wanted to do something in her memory.
"We all wanted to help them," he says. "George Kirtley, DDS, in Indianapolis has been especially instrumental in this with me."
One dentist paid for Savercool's funeral costs, and as of March 15, the GoFundMe campaign had received more than $11,000—approximately 45% of its $25,000 goal. Many contributors have included words of praise for Savercool and condolences to her family as well. One directed to Savercool herself says: "May your spirit live on forever in the smiles you have created."
This is just another way in which dental professionals have come together and proven themselves to be part of a real community. Clients aren't just dentists; they're family and colleagues. Ceramists aren't just technicians; they're artists and friends.
Donate to Hakjoo Savercool's Family
Donations in memory of Hakjoo Savercool are still being accepted to help her family. For more information about the GoFundMe campaign, please visit insidedentaltech.com/idt1013.
Paying It Forward
"Giving back" within the dental community is not limited to health or finances but extends to the number of ways laboratory technicians help others within the industry, including career development.
In the 20 years since starting his Re-Creating Nature® CE courses, Douglas J. Frye, CDT, has also offered hundreds of hands-on learning experiences at no charge to those who could not otherwise afford them. His efforts were rewarded very early on, when he was approached by a regular attendee of his lectures.
"This man talked slowly and was very reserved, but it was obvious to me he wanted to learn," recalls Frye. "Three weeks later the State of Illinois contacted me and offered to pay for a private 2-day course for him at my office. I was taken aback when I learned this man had brain trauma due to a horrific car accident. He was a father of three working to restart his life."
Frye decided to give this aspiring technician his full attention, providing about eight hands-on courses to help him master ceramics. The student increased his skill level quickly and was able to attain his CDT in dental ceramics.
"This is when I knew I had to continue to give back to those who had not reached their full potential yet," says Frye.
Frye's spirit of giving back continues to inspire others in the industry to join him in these efforts—including top names in laboratory technology offering specialized education opportunities.
"Our goal is to incorporate a group of expert volunteers who can cover all aspects of dental technology," Frye says. "In the near future, you will hear much more about these ‘Give-back Techs.' We all have special skills that can help catapult someone who needs to elevate their skillset."
They are also helping create a scholarship fund for ambitious students to develop their skills with some of the best technicians one-on-one.
Dental technology professionals use their unique skills and talents for the benefit of patients every day, but they also take the opportunity to support, honor, and lift each other up when such a need arises. There are so many ways that those in the dental industry can give back and pay it forward. The key is to recognize these opportunities, both within the professional community and beyond.
Giving Back Smiles
Laboratory gives new life to survivors of domestic violence
By Hannah Feldman
David Geffre, owner of Intelligent Touch Dental Laboratory, started out as a one-person operation in a 12-by-12-foot basement, doing model work in the laundry room. Now, with a thriving 32-person laboratory, he feels that he has been blessed. After years of education and hard work pursuing his vision of what a dental laboratory should be, he found himself in a position of success—and he decided to take the skills and resources he'd gained and use them to the benefit of those less fortunate. Geffre involved his laboratory in the Give Back a Smile program offered through the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD).
The Give Back a Smile program provides cosmetic dental services and support programs to the survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. Dentists, dental laboratories, and other dental professionals around the country volunteer their services to rebuild smiles and lives. Since it was launched nearly 20 years ago, Give Back a Smile has restored the damaged teeth of more than 1,500 domestic violence survivors, valued at over $15 million. While Geffre takes pride in the quality of all of his work, he finds these cases particularly rewarding.
"After our work is done for the day, I'll sit here at night and do ceramics on a case," Geffre says. "But what's really nice is that I'm not doing it for money or because I want to feel better. It's more that the industry's been good to me, and I can give back by helping someone who really needs it."
This year, Geffre has committed his laboratory to donating four complete denture cases and four complete roundhouse cases. He rarely meets the patients who benefit from his work, but he's very aware that every case he delivers is changing a life. Missing teeth and facial injuries can provide a constant, visible reminder of a past that many survivors can't afford to correct. A new smile inspires incredible confidence and a fresh start.
"Maybe these victims of abuse stayed out of love, but also because of fear. We have to look at them with compassion and give back their smiles because when they see themselves—all of a sudden looking warm and changed—they also change," Geffre says. "And even though I never see that person, it's nice to know I helped in that effort."
Despite never meeting most of the survivors he helps, Geffre knows the work he does is appreciated. His laboratory frequently receives thank-you cards, and the AACD has honored him with three Give Back a Smile Awards for achieving the charitable goals to which he'd committed.
Geffre originally joined the AACD because of its strong values and support of education. He feels that the organization has helped him strive for better results, pushed him to learn more, and challenged him to always find room for improvement. The AACD's commitment to responsible esthetics based on oral health principles has attracted remarkable people who take great satisfaction in Give Back a Smile's charitable mission. Geffre is proud to count himself among the skilled practitioners who donate their time, money, and expertise to a cause that helps those most in need of esthetic and cosmetic quality.
"There are some dentists who are doing more charitable work than we are," he says. "These practitioners and what they take on—the time they have invested is immense, so my hat goes off to them."
Besides his work with Give Back a Smile, Geffre also does a great deal of work with Donated Dental Services (DDS), based in Minnesota. This expansive volunteer network has a program that operates in each state and provides free, comprehensive dental care to the most vulnerable, including the disabled and elderly who cannot get public aid. Dentists and dental laboratories work together to provide a wide range of services, including donated dentures, crowns, and bridges. While much of Geffre's work with them is more local, he's also accepted cases from Rhode Island, Ohio, and Washington.
"DDS knows that if they need a laboratory, they can automatically call us, and no matter how much Donated Dental work we've done, we'll take the case," says Geffre. He encourages other laboratories, dentists, and dental professionals to donate whatever time they can, whether through Give Back a Smile, Donated Dental, or any other organization of their choice.
"Never be afraid to grab a charitable case," he says, "because the reward will always outweigh everything else."
Help Give Back a Smile
Learn more about the Give Back a Smile program, including how to contribute, at insidedentaltech.com/idt1014.