Highlighting charitable efforts in the profession
Every April, Inside Dental Technology tells the stories of dental professionals who give back to the community, using whatever resources are at their disposal to help those in need, as well as some in the laboratory community who have been on the receiving end of benevolence within the profession. This year, we spotlight the charitable work of Climb For A Cause and the Brighter Way Institute, two very different examples of dental professionals giving care and treatment to those in need. We also share the story of Dental Prosthetic Services, a laboratory that was featured in this spot 3 years ago for its own charitable efforts but found itself in need of help recently after a devastating fire destroyed its building. 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.
What Goes Around Comes Around
Charitable laboratory owner gets help from various places after fire
Kristine Van Cleve watched firefighters cutting a hole in the roof of her dental laboratory, battling flames from there and the back of the building. She surveyed the group of employees who had gathered outside the facility, having heard on the news about the fire. Within minutes, she made her first phone call.
"I called our insurance agent to verify that all of our employees would continue to receive paychecks," says Van Cleve, President of Dental Prosthetic Services in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "We have a nice, amazing group of people. I looked out at that group and thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. All of these people have bills to pay.' I wanted to be able to assure everybody who was standing out there that they would be OK."
In the face of a devastating disaster, literally watching her business burn, Van Cleve thought of others. That was true to form; in April 2016, IDT chronicled Van Cleve's activity with various oral healthcare charities (insidedentaltech.com/idt1068). Now, however, it was time for others to come to her aid.
The fire happened on a Saturday in July. A natural gas explosion started a blaze in the removables department. Fortunately, no one was in the building at the time, but the damage was substantial: 95% of the laboratory's equipment was destroyed.
"I don't know that there is really a word for how it felt," Van Cleve says of her emotions upon realizing the extent of the damage. "We just said, ‘Well, now we need to put it back together.'"
By Sunday, employees, family, and friends were helping to secure the building and salvage anything possible, including some completed cases that were scheduled for delivery Monday. The IT company that monitored all of the laboratory's data had seen what was happening and managed to back up all of the data and shut down the server, retrieving it from the building only hours after the fire and restoring its function.
"Everybody was so amazing, and that was critical," Van Cleve says. "That is just our nature: Let's get going, because the situation will not get any better while we stand here watching."
On Sunday night, Van Cleve emailed several vendors to inform them that the laboratory would need special help obtaining new equipment. She got immediate responses, and once a temporary location had been locked down on Tuesday, equipment was shipped.
Help came from companies including 3DRPD, 3M Oral Care, Argen, Atlanta Based Systems, B&D Dental Technologies, Bego USA, Benco Dental, Brasseler USA, Carbon, CMP Industries, GC America Inc., Handler, Henry Schein/Zahn Dental, Ivoclar Vivadent, LaserStar Technologies, Myerson Tooth, Nobel Biocare, Panthera Dental, Patterson Dental, Wagner Precision Rotary Instruments, Whip Mix, Wren Dental, and Zubler USA.
The National Association of Dental Laboratories, Midwest Dental Laboratory Association, and individual laboratories also reached out. Van Cleve's husband drove to Missouri to meet up with Steve Edmonds, owner of Edmonds Dental Prosthetics Inc. and a fellow member of the TEREC Group, who provided casting machines, burnout ovens, and other equipment that could be used until the new equipment arrived. Justin Koch, President of Artisan Dental Laboratory in Portland, Oregon, and another TEREC Group member, sent a porcelain oven.
"Competitors and people I had never even met were calling and offering to help," Van Cleve says. "All of the other TEREC Group members told us to send any cases we needed processed, and they would handle them and ship them out. It was just amazing."
Dental Prosthetic Services' clients helped primarily by being patient during the 2 to 3 weeks that it took to get back to regular business.
"Most of them kept sending their work to us, knowing we would not be able to touch it for a while," Van Cleve says. "They probably spent that entire month only preparing teeth, and then the next month seating everything. They said, ‘That's what partners do.'"
While Dental Prosthetic Services remains in a temporary facility—the rebuilt laboratory is expected to be ready by the end of this month—Van Cleve and her team have not allowed their own charity work to be impacted. They have continued to participate in the Donated Dental Service program through Dental Lifeline. In January, they provided restorative work for two veterans as part of a local surgeon's "Make a Hero Smile" campaign.
"That is part of who we are," Van Cleve says. "We would not stop doing that."
Van Cleve dismisses the suggestion that Dental Prosthetic Services might have been the recipient of any sort of karma or perhaps even a conscious desire to help someone who has helped so many others.
"I think people just want to help," she says. "In the news, we hear how negative our society can be, and sometimes it really takes something like this to remember that there is so much good in this world. When there is a problem, people in general just want to be helpful."
Restoring Smiles to Those Most in Need
Brighter Way Institute has grown from a two-chair trailer to a facility with its own laboratory
The domestic violence victims and the war veterans are the ones who stick out the most to Kris Volcheck, DDS. When someone is recovering from a traumatic, violent experience, often the last step of their recovery is a new smile. Volcheck recalls one Marine veteran whose teeth were "just enamel shells." They were reminiscent of someone who had struggled with drug addiction or sucked on lemons for their whole life, but the Marine cited something else: "I was busting down doors in Iraq and Afghanistan, under constant fire from snipers, and my jaw was continuously clenched, just shearing bits of my teeth off every day," he said. Following a full-mouth reconstruction, the Marine told Volcheck, "This was the last piece, Doc. I will never have my mind back, and I am OK with that, but this was the last piece from my tours."
Volcheck treated that Marine through the Brighter Way Institute, a nonprofit dental clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, whose beginnings can be traced back to a two-chair dental trailer that Volcheck worked out of almost two decades ago. Today, Brighter Way includes the Brighter Way Dental Center for Veterans and the Homeless (formerly CASS Dental Clinic), the Parsons Center for Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics, and the Canyon State Academy Dental Center for Foster Children.
Volcheck was in private practice for 10 years before deciding he needed something more. He left dentistry and became involved with the homeless, working for 5 years as a case manager.
"I quickly became addicted to helping that population," he says.
Eventually, Volcheck came to the realization that his former profession happened to provide one of the homeless population's most pressing needs.
"The homeless generally have medical, mental health, and many other services available, but dental care often is missing," he says.
That led to the two-chair dental trailer, which he pulled up behind a homeless shelter. Within a few years, several hundred volunteers had become involved on a rotating basis.
"Even then, my goal was to provide the same level of care that any American could get," Volcheck says. "The homeless, who are trying to become ex-homeless, need immense care to become employable. Extractions and fillings are great for their health, but we were trying to get them employed."
That often meant crown-and-bridge or removable work, but Volcheck had no budget for laboratory bills. Instead, he visited laboratories in Arizona and anywhere he vacationed.
"I would tell them about my cause and ask if they could do one case per year for free," he says. "They would say, ‘Sure,' and then they would end up doing five to six cases per year. Rarely did a laboratory say no. That made all the difference in the services I could offer."
Working out of that trailer, Volcheck built a network of approximately 100 laboratories. Then, after 4 years, Volcheck opened an eight-chair facility on the Human Services Campus in downtown Phoenix. Brighter Way eventually hired two laboratory technicians to work on-site.
"I love the connections we make with our patients," says Chris Chunn, who worked as a technician for Brighter Way for 8 years, left to gain experience at outside laboratories, and returned to the Institute last year. "You can get personal with every case. Some of the stories you hear at Brighter Way are unbelievable. We are changing people's lives. Some of these people have the hardest lives you could imagine, and we get to give them a little bit of happiness. It's awesome."
Brighter Way gets most of its funding through donations, but some of its more complex restorative work is accomplished with the help of companies such as ClearChoice, Nobel Biocare, and Straumann, which train dentists on their implant systems there. While dental licenses do not cross state lines, Arizona allows dentists to receive training as part of volunteering for a charitable organization.
"I never thought we would be offering all-on-4s to ex-homeless veterans, but that is happening," Volcheck says. "The transformations that are happening are immense."
Those types of treatments are reserved for the ex-homeless, as Volcheck notes that proper maintenance of a complex restoration would be difficult while living in the streets.
"We give these patients pain and infection control and a lot of love and encouragement," he says. "All these patients have come through homelessness, mental health issues, and drugs, and they have come out the other side and are now ready to be employed. They are able to maintain a smile."
Fixed work is outsourced to other laboratories, but Chunn fabricates all of Brighter Way's removables in-house and works with the dentists and patients directly.
"I love being able to give everything I've learned back to Brighter Way," Chunn says.
Chunn started his own nonprofit during his time away from Brighter Way. Like Volcheck, he says a Marine veteran sticks out the most among all the charitable cases he has handled.
"This gentleman was a hardened Marine Corps sniper, and when I gave him his denture, he just cried," Chunn says. "That sealed the deal for me. I've been committed to this work ever since."
Charitable Hike Continues Ascension
22nd annual Climb For A Cause expected to be the largest yet
Daniel Bobrow describes the genesis of his Climb For A Cause event as "a case of sibling rivalry run amok." More than 25 years later, however, Bobrow's charity is climbing toward $2 million in total funds raised toward dental care to children in need around the world.
Approximately 85 dental professionals, industry people, and others will climb Static Peak in Grand Teton National Park this September. Last year's hike of the Panorama Ridge Trail in Canada set Climb For A Cause (CFAC) records with 72 participants and more than $120,000 raised.
"It is highly gratifying," says Bobrow, President of AIM Dental Marketing. "So many people support the cause, and I just enjoy seeing it grow as we increase the footprint and the amount of sustainable support we can provide, which is made tangible when we add projects and clinics to our offering each year."
Bobrow was first inspired to start a charitable event when his brother, Michael, a dentist in Illinois, began volunteering his time at a local dental charity in 1991. Daniel asked if the group would be interested in utilizing his passion for the outdoors and his experience in marketing and promotion to begin an athletic event to raise awareness and funds for their cause. That led to the Run for the Ark, which drew 600 participants and raised more than $30,000.
Having gotten a taste for that type of philanthropy, Bobrow and a group of friends decided to organize a climb of Mount Rainier in 1994 for a non-dental cause. The climb got its name when Bobrow mentioned it to a fellow gym-goer while training.
"I mentioned what we were doing to the woman next to me, and she said, ‘You should do a climb for a cause,'" he says.
Still, Bobrow focused on non-dental causes until 1998 when, at the suggestion of his friend and fellow consultant Linda Miles, he decided to "connect the dots" and focus his charitable efforts on the industry in which he worked. This year will be the 22nd annual dentists' CFAC, with the group's tagline being "Dentists and their teams hiking miles for smiles." Funds and other resources are earmarked for oral health education and treatment projects in remote regions of Guatemala, Nepal, India, Cambodia, and Kenya, with plans to soon expand into more countries.
The group chooses different locations for its climbs almost every year, though they have hiked the Grand Canyon twice and Mount Charleston (Nevada) three times.
Bill McCormick, CDT, General Manager of Heritage Dental Laboratories in Arlington Heights, Illinois, has participated in climbs in San Jacinto, California; Palm Springs, California; Taos, New Mexico; Zion National Park, Utah; and Vietnam. McCormick became involved through a friend, practice management specialist Bill Blatchford, DDS.
"I had done some mountain climbing, but not much technical climbing," McCormick says. "It was fun. Some of my clients were there, and overall it was a fun experience."
Bobrow says the camaraderie is a significant part of it for many of the climbers.
"It is multifaceted, and the experience is probably unique for each individual, but there are certain common experiences and benefits that people derive," he says. "The venue always provides a beautiful experience. Most of the people who self-select are, by definition, caring and giving people who enjoy meeting like-minded individuals. We have a lot of fun, and periodically throughout the weekend, we remind everyone why we are here and what we are doing. We are helping people who desperately need oral health education and treatment so hopefully they can lead happier, healthier, and more productive lives."
Bobrow invites anyone to participate, though he does send all registrants a 12-week training regimen and a required/optional gear list. If he is not familiar with a new registrant, he schedules a phone call to "reality-check them."
"We just want to make sure everyone knows what they are getting into," he says, "so they have an enjoyable and safe time and their involvement in no way jeopardizes the safety or success of the team."
To date, CFAC has raised close to $2 million for overseas and domestic oral health education and treatment.
"What is really important, however, is how we leverage those dollars into equivalent care overseas, which is always a factor of at least 10," Bobrow says. "We keep charts on how many children we screen, treat, and follow up. We have a chart for every child we see. Our goal is to visit each patient at least once every 2 years, or until we deem it unnecessary for them to see us."
CFAC invites laboratories not only to participate but to sponsor the event and promote it to their clients and prospects, sharing a promotional code for a discounted registration. Additionally, anyone "not inclined to be inclined," as Bobrow says, can become a branch office of his associated charity, Smile Tree. Participants receive complimentary public relations support through AIM Dental Marketing.
The goal of all of these efforts, of course, is to help as many children as possible.
"There is a real gratification," Bobrow says, "in seeing these kids' smiles improve and seeing the problems disappear."