Free smile repairs
Dental students bring care to clinic for homeless adults
Danny Kaplan, clinical instructor in endodontics, checks treatment done for John Sucha at the Goldie’s Place clinic as dental students Natalie Morgan, left, and Natacha Herard-Exorphe observe.
Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin
Robert Burgess had one wish for Christmas: to replace his missing teeth.
An Army veteran who has spent time homeless and living in transitional housing, Burgess had little money and no permanent place to call home.
But Burgess’ wish came true at Goldie’s Place, a support center for adults who are homeless that offers job training, placement and a dental clinic completely managed by UIC students.
Seventy-five dental students and 25 dental hygienist students from Kennedy-King College volunteer their time and talents every other Saturday at the clinic on Chicago’s North Side.
The facility has grown from a one-chair operation 13 years ago to a four-operatory dental suite, with separate spaces for a laboratory and sterilization room.
Students run the clinic as if it were their own private practice.
First-year students manage the front desk, schedule appointments, work in the laboratory and sterilize instruments. Second-year students perform simple cleanings and assist patients once their care is complete.
Third- and fourth-year students execute more complicated procedures, filling cavities, extracting teeth and replacing missing teeth with new prosthetics.
The students treat nine to 12 patients every Saturday; a faculty adviser oversees their work.
Although the dental curriculum is demanding and students don’t receive credit toward their degrees by working at Goldie’s Place, the number of volunteers continues to grow.
“I’ve received a better clinical education since I began volunteering at Goldie’s Place,” said third-year dental student Andy Monestero.
“I’ve always been a big believer in volunteering, and when I heard about the clinic I thought it would be a great way to not only get experience but to help underserved people.
“It’s a great experience to see how to operate a clinic,” added Monestero, who manages two groups of students as a team captain.
“We have a lot of freedom here.”
Goldie’s Place, which opened 15 years ago in a 700-square-foot storefront on North Clark Street, moved to its new, 5,100-square-foot facility on North Lincoln Avenue three years ago.
William Bjork, a Chicago dentist and UIC dentistry graduate, started offering free care at Goldie’s Place in 1997, donating a chair and other equipment.
The center later expanded to two chairs with grants from the VNA Foundation and Washington Square Health Foundation.
UIC’s involvement began about three years ago after Bjork and Johanna Dalton, executive director of Goldie’s Place, approached Caswell Evans, the college’s associate dean of prevention and public health sciences.
“One of our goals at the college is to prepare an oral health care workforce that is competent in and committed to addressing the oral health needs of vulnerable and underserved populations and to play its part in eliminating health disparities,” Evans said.
“Working with Goldie’s Place helps us achieve our objective.”
Along with the students’ time, the college donated three more chairs and additional dental items. Other benefactors, including Henry Schein Cares, the foundation arm of Henry Schein Inc., a distributor of dental, medical and veterinary supplies, gave equipment, supplies and services.
As a fourth-year dental student two years ago, Esther Lopez was one of UIC’s first five volunteers. Now in private practice in Oak Park, she is still involved, managing the clinic.
“The majority of our patients live in shelters or transitional homes and they want to try and get their mouth healthy to feel better and get a job,” she said.
“I love working here because I get to use my interests in both public health and dentistry.”
More than 110 social service agencies in the Chicago area refer patients to Goldie’s Place. Dalton estimates that more than 1,400 homeless adults have received dental care there since 2001.
Second-year student Brian Homann has donated his time to many endeavors, but Goldie’s Place is one of the best, he said.
He not only performs routine procedures, but provides cancer screenings to patients and develops detailed treatment plans.
Homann said he relishes the opportunity to “do everything.”
“I’ve worked every single job here,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for first-year students to get real clinical experience.”
Since his first visit to Goldie’s Place in October 2009, Burgess’ smile has slowly returned. He had a root canal; several missing teeth were replaced by upper and lower plates manufactured by the students.
“I feel great,” he said.
“The students do great work and really care about the patients. What they’re doing for the homeless and unfortunate is great.”
Below left: third-year dental student Andy Monestero manages two teams of volunteers who provide dental services to homeless adults at the student-run clinic at Goldie’s Place. Right: second-year student Brian Homann treats patient Dario Graham.
Photos: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin