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Dental Clinic Strives to Stay Strong

St. Franics MissionIf you’ve been following the progress of our dental clinic, you know we have achieved great things. Except for the local hospital—which mostly deals with dental crises, generally by extracting the offending tooth— no one else in a hundred miles is able to serve the dental needs of the Lakota of Rosebud Reservation. We do it at the St. Francis Dental Clinic.

And we’re doing it with volunteer dentists and hygienists who come in from university dental schools (like Creighton in Nebraska) and spend a day, a week, or two weeks giving children, men, and women excellent dental care in our four-chair clinic. Dentists from the South Dakota Dental Association have also stepped up to care for our people.

We do much more than extractions. Our best weapons are education, establishing habits of good hygiene, and doing regular checkups to prevent serious problems. We try to save teeth, not pull them. If we encounter something too great for us, we transport patients to dental offices outside the Reservation–places like Sioux Falls or Rapid City where they have special equipment and expertise.

But we’re facing some great needs in the dental clinic these days. I spoke with Marty Jones, long-time director of our dental program and a veteran dental hygienist. She and her assistant Britt Gordon are
scheduling week-long clinics for summer, bringing in dentists from Indiana University, Creighton, elsewhere. They expect to take care of scores of children by working, sometimes, 12-hour days. We are so grateful for our faithful volunteers.

Here are a couple of comments I heard as I spoke with some dental clinic patients:

“This is a much-needed service. Good people doing a good thing. If they can’t take care of you, they refer you elsewhere and make it happen.” –Sherry Cornelius, mother of a patient.

“They were really, really nice. They didn’t have room in their schedule, but they squeezed us in.They helped me, my three children, and my father. We didn’t have to travel hours to see a dentist.” –Diane Bordeaux.

So while the clinic continues to serve, we have some problems. I’m hoping you can help us out.

Shortage of dentist volunteers. Because we don’t have a permanent dentist on staff (a dream of ours), we rely solely on volunteers. But we cannot expect the same 20 volunteers to give up their family vacations to work with us year after year. Marty has been talking to the South Dakota Association of Dentists at their regional meetings, hoping to draw more in.  She is also reaching out nationally to the American Association of Dentists to publicize our need. Even now we get as many dentists from out of state as we do from in state.  It costs us money to advertise and travel to get our message out to dentists. Would you let your dentist know of our need?

Lack of modern equipment. We have been using equipment that was outdated when we got it. Many dental offices have kindly donated their last-generation chairs and equipment to us. But some of it is now 35 years old. Our X-ray machine is obsolete, and we can’t get parts to fix it. To replace it will cost over $4,000.

Here are some other pieces of equipment we desperately need:

  • Ultrasonic bath used in sterilization of instruments: $500
  • Apex locator used in root canal treatment: $600
  • Cavitron ultrasonic scaling device: $1,000
  • Surgical hand-piece with motor: $3,000
  • A second statim sterilizer to keep up with the need: $4,000
  • Over-the-patient delivery arms for three chairs: $4,000 each

Can you help us financially? Without help, we will continue to drift toward becoming an urgent care only dental clinic, not unlike the local hospital. We established the dental clinic because we believe that all people deserve adequate health care – regular education, hygiene, checkups and treatment. We are definitely NOT talking about cosmetic dentistry.

We put the children first as much as we can, reaching them before dental problems get established. But we struggle to stay current even with them. We need a resurgence in volunteers and generous gifts to maintain standards and achieve ideals for the clinic.

Think of your own dental care – that of your children and yourself – and imagine going without. I appreciate whatever you can do to help us.

In the Risen Lord,

Father John Hatcher, S.J.

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