• Megann Horstead

Atrium Family Dental serves area one smile at a time


One day only. That’s all it takes for Atrium Family Dental to see the impact of what happens when the community comes together in an effort to offer free dentistry.

More than 50 people dropped in for Atrium Family Dental’s sixth annual day of free cleanings, fillings and extractions as part of Dentistry From The Heart, a nonprofit whose goal is to provide free dentistry to those without insurance.

Interested individuals were served on a first-come, first-served basis. No screening was performed for dental insurance or financial need.

Patients received a cleaning and an X-ray of the mouth, and after, they could get one filling or extraction. Those seeking additional fillings or extractions were also accommodated.

Atrium Family Dental’s operations manager Sara Sudman said this is a wonderful time to be in the office for her husband, Shane.

“It’s Dr. Shane’s favorite day, because he is able to do something that he absolutely loves and help people that maybe, can’t afford to make this a priority for them because we all need it,” she said.

Sudman said there are people who drop in every year to take advantage of the free service offerings. The reasons people decide to come in vary, she said.

“A lot of people come in with a concern,” Sudman said. “Maybe, let’s say, they’re having a toothache somewhere. Usually, there’s a cavity in that tooth where it needs to be pulled because the cavity’s so big that if we leave it in there, we [find that we] can’t possibly save the tooth, so we extract it.”

Judith Merritt, of Crestwood, said she’s glad she decided to drop in.

“I just wanted a cleaning,” she said, noting that she wasn’t experiencing any pain or discomfort. “I was OK, and they checked me out. So, I was still OK. Even though I thought I was OK, [they] examined me to make sure that I was actually OK.”

Merritt said it is sometimes challenging to find places to get dentistry performed.

“It’s not like it used to be,” she said.

Greg Putyra, of Montgomery, said he came in for a cleaning.

“I try to get it done every year, but I can’t,” he said.

Putyra noted that he doesn’t have insurance and said it’s great to know there are places to visit to receive free dentistry.

“This is a very nice service that they provide,” he said. “I was here last year, so I’m a return customer.”

While the spotlight is often on healthcare, access to dentistry remains a concern for people across the country.

Sudman said she’s not optimistic that change will come some day.

“The way that our government is headed with healthcare in general, probably not,” she said. “Usually, we’re the type of industry that people don’t understand how your mouth is tied to every other aspect of your body. So, everything enters through your mouth—diet, you speak, you smile. Every thing starts with your mouth, but we don’t give it that much importance.”

“With your mouth, usually people don’t come to us until they’re in pain,” she said. “Usually, when they’re in pain, there’s something going on. But what they don’t know is even if you don’t have pain, you could still have a bacterial infection that can get into your blood stream and then it’s in your body. People actually die because the infection gets into your bloodstream and now it’s all over. That’s the unfortunate thing.”

That’s where dental offices, such as Atrium Family Dental, aim to make a difference.

“Part of what we do is educate the patients, as well, because if you understand the importance you’re going to make an effort to come twice a year or go to Dentistry From The Heart events to make things happen,” Sudman said. “But usually, you don’t see us until you’re in pain. At that point, it’s now you’re looking at more money, difficult procedures, and it’s not a good situation.”

Sudman said it’s great to see the way office staff and volunteers came forward to support the cause this year.

“We have had the biggest number of people come forward actually asking us if they can volunteer, which is awesome because then it doesn’t become a struggle to try to find people,” she said. “Some of the volunteers are patients, some of there are vendors—like dental vendors or reps—and they often donate supplies. Some of them are doctors passionate about helping. They travel over two hours to come and do this and this isn’t their community... It’s really fun to see everybody be ignited and motivated by the exact same thing, which is helping people, and that’s ultimately, what we’re here to do.”

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