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Free Sterling dental clinic helps hundreds of smiles

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Shahida Farooq’s molar caused her pain and misery for the past six months. But when she visited her mosque’s clinic, instead of providing care they made an unusual suggestion — go to a Catholic church.


Farooq and her daughter-in-law arrived at Christ the Redeemer Church in Sterling June 8 as part of a group of more than 420 people seeking free dental care in the church hall. The dental clinic was organized by the nonprofit Hope for Tomorrow, a 14-year-old organization led by a group of dental professionals and volunteers who give back to the community through dental care. While most people have medical care through their work or through the government, many people still lack dental insurance.


According to Christ the Redeemer pastor, Father J.D. Jaffe, the church has hosted the organization at least three times. Many of the organizers and volunteers are parishioners at the multicultural parish.


"It is such an incredible help for so many people who don't have the money for dental care," said Father Jaffe. "For me as a pastor, it is my responsibility to care for the parishioners as well as the people in the area."


Initially, Hope for Tomorrow only organized international missions. That changed when Dr. Anh Pham, an oral surgeon, recognized a domestic need for a dental mission.


“Coming back to the U.S. after a mission, I felt that there was a lack here,” said Pham. “Why do we have to travel all the way across the world? We can do it right here.” In 2014, the group hosted its first domestic dental clinic closely following all regulations established by the Virginia Board of Dentistry.


Each year, they try to provide three local missions and one in Vietnam or Cambodia.


After a few missions, they went from screenings and referrals to doing extractions, fillings and cleanings on site. They established a preregistration model while still accepting a limited number of walk-ins.


The clinic involves 250 licensed dental professionals and volunteers and about 40 suitcase-sized portable dental units.


When a patient arrived at this year’s second domestic mission, a group of support staff guided them through different stations depending on their needs. Translators helped patients communicate with doctors. Patients receiving anesthesia were sent to blood pressure stations, while others were sent to a prescreening room for X-rays. Unlike in previous clinics, the images were uploaded to a new patient record software program designed for the clinic.


If a patient needed an extraction, doctors were able to access their images as each one arrived at one of the five extraction stations. They reclined in lawn chairs while a surgeon and assistant sat on either side.


Many of the doctors were assisted by dental students such as Issa Abu El Hawa, a Jerusalem native in his third year of dental school at Howard University College of Dentistry in Washington. “I’m so surprised by how organized it is,” Hawa said. “It’s good to give back to the community and to teach them to take care of their teeth. Extractions are really the last resort.”


According to Thang Do, patient processing was very efficient with the preregistration model. “We are able to serve about 40 people per hour,” said Do.


Jose Portillo and his wife were impressed with the process when they came for fillings.


“We were in and out in just 45 minutes,” said Portillo.


Hope for Tomorrow President Dr. Thi Nguyen believes free clinics such as these help people get out of the poverty cycle. “Dental care gives them the boost of confidence they need to go to a job interview and then maybe get a job that can provide dental care,” said Nguyen. “This helps them move to the next step.”


Nguyen takes pride in the fact that the organization is 100 percent non-profit. All the volunteers have full-time jobs and provide $100,000 worth of services during each clinic pro bono, according to Vice President Loc Nguyen, a parishioner of Christ the Redeemer. Every year, they rely on fundraisers and donations to pay for the equipment and supplies that usually runs between $8,000 and $10,000 for each event.


This clinic not only benefits the patients, but it helps the dental community as well. Dental students, as well as high schoolers interested in dentistry, are able to work side by side with the doctors. This builds a connection between current and future generations of dental health care providers and hopefully will encourage the next generation to help the community by giving them back their smiles.


Kassock is a freelancer from Stafford.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019