The Ben Massell Dental Clinic of JF&CS is the most advanced free dental treatment facility in Georgia. Yes, that’s right – treatment is free. The Clinic changes the lives and smiles of underserved patients in the Atlanta area who otherwise could not afford dental services. They receive top notch care from a caring staff of dental residents and interns, seasoned volunteer dentists and hygienists who are dedicated to serving people in need.
Two of those caring professionals are dental residents, Dr. Poonam Kalaria and Dr. Jean Chien who recently served as volunteers at the clinic. Both women learned that for patients at the Ben Massell Dental Clinic, there are many barriers to receiving quality dental treatment.
“Patients at Ben Massell often reveal that they have been in pain for months or even years, because financial, transportation, language, education barriers have prevented them from getting care,” said Dr. Chien. “From the brief time I have been with Ben Massell, however, I have witnessed the dedication of the staff and volunteers to eliminate these barriers.”
“The clients are unbelievably appreciative of the care we provide,” added Dr. Kalaria. “We treat our patients for more than just the bare minimum. We want to go above and beyond, make dentures, and make sure you like the smile we make you, the color of the teeth, all of that. We understand that teeth are important for self-confidence. We don’t treat teeth like a luxury, but as a basic right.”
Dr. Chien agreed. “The dental volunteers are always extremely supportive in making sure all patients are provided timely and excellent care. The patients may not always see the same volunteer dentist, but they always see the same staff at the front desk and the same dental assistants in the operatories. It is evident that these familiar faces put patients at ease and make the environment at Ben Massell a very pleasant one for clients.”
“On numerous occasions patients confide in us about their struggles to find a job, medical care, or affordable housing,” Dr. Chien said. “As a dental resident at the clinic, I can immediately refer these patients to our team of on-site social workers and help patients find solutions to non-dental problems. It has been amazing to be able to learn from the volunteers as well as Ben Massell’s team of staff about providing compassionate and holistic care to underserved clients.”
“Dr. Kalaria recalled a patient in his 40s, whose life was positively impacted by the Ben Massell Dental Clinic. “He was in a car accident with an 18-wheeler, and he was left for dead on the side of the road,” she said. “His teeth were ruined, he lost his job and his house, and his relationship with his family was strained. It seemed like he had lost everything, including his teeth.
Dr. Kalaria was the resident who took out this patient’s remaining teeth, as none of them were salvageable. “He was fitted and set up with dentures and is set to get his permanent implants soon. Today, Dr. Kalaria said he is an entirely different person. Every time we see him, he is happy, hugging all of us and shedding tears of joy. He calls me his guardian angel, and we all want the best for him.”
Dr. Kalaria graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a major in economics and served as a risk analyst for seven years before deciding she wanted to switch careers to have more work life balance, and a career that was more meaningful. She eventually settled on going to dental school.”
Dr. Chien comes from a family of those in the healthcare field. Like the rest of her family, she is passionate about healthcare, but she is also an artist. “My search for a career in which I can combine my passion in health care and art landed me in dentistry,” Dr. Chien explained. “To be able to make art that is functional, aesthetic, and comfortable in people’s mouths has been very rewarding!”
The Ben Massell Dental Clinic is always looking for volunteer dentists and hygienists. To learn more about how you can make a difference, like Dr. Chien and Dr. Kalaria, visit www.benmasselldentalclinic.org/volunteer