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posted: 8/19/2013 1:43 PM

Wheaton dental clinic helps keep those in need smiling

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Good, basic dental care for an underserved population is at the heart of a new dental clinic with Lisle connections.

Dentists Joseph Ladone, Stephen Palantinus and Mike Durbin were among the volunteers at a previous health clinic in Wheaton that closed the dental part of its medical services two years ago.

Knowing the importance of regular dental care and the needs of their patients, the three worked within a dedicated core group of volunteers to re-establish a separate, free dental clinic at 416 E. Roosevelt Road in Suite 102, Wheaton.

"It was a tenuous time, but to a wonderful end," said Dr. Keith Suchy, president of the board of managers that oversees the new clinic's operations. "The change forged a relationship with the Chicago Dental Society Foundation and sought its funding that allowed us to open the clinic with a renewed vigor."

To get the project up and running, the Chicago Dental Society Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Chicago Dental Society, offered continuity to the volunteers and coordinated efforts.

The Chicago Dental Society is an association of 6,100 dentists in the Metropolitan Chicago area and an advocate for improving oral health for all since its founding in 1864, according to its "Broken Smiles" report dated February, 2013.

Along with others, Durbin worked at the previous clinic that was started by his mother, Lisle resident Mary Ellen Durbin, who at the time was director of the People's Resource Center in Wheaton.

"Dental maintenance is key to keeping healthy," Mike Durbin said. "Restoring such services to those who otherwise cannot afford was essential."

Palantinus, a Benedictine University graduate, volunteered at the original free clinic and was willing to put in his time and efforts to restore the service. He knew the need for continuity of dental care to the underserved population.

With dentists and hygienists donating their services, the CDS Foundation stored the former clinic's dental equipment, coordinated donations of dental supplies and equipment, and set the broader standards to include patients from DuPage, Cook and Lake counties.

The "Broken Smiles" report also detailed that "nearly 70 percent of Chicagoland dentists surveyed in 2011 say their patients are delaying needed dental treatment because of the economy."

Today, with a welcoming floral wreath on its door, the CDS Foundation Dental Clinic in Wheaton provides free basic dental care to patients with proof of income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and with no access to any dental coverage.

"We serve the uninsured, working poor and people who fall through the cracks and have no other access," office manager Pat Ciebien said.

"Patients may be homeless, be individuals who have come upon hard times or immigrants without an economic base, but all need to see a dentist," said Ladone, a retired Lisle dentist.

The new clinic is bright, light and welcoming. Patients make an appointment with a regularly scheduled dentist, as is customary at other dental offices. The clinic offers patients dignity and convenience.

Within the first four months of its operation, the clinic registered roughly 140 hours of service with 48 dentists and a dozen dental hygienists, according to Suchy.

"We have had a gradual increase since opening," Suchy said. "We are looking for more colleagues to volunteer, but we've had a really thankful start in the first few months."

The free clinic has three operatory rooms, a lab, X-ray room, business office, break room and reception area. In the back, some boxes of donated dental supplies wait for shelf space. Along one wall is a large graphic of a tree with outreaching branches covered with leaves to signify each volunteer. Roughly 40 dentists volunteer regularly.

"It was really the fortitude of our volunteer doctors, which spearheaded the process," Suchy said. "Many of us treat the clinic as a second office that has been a proud undertaking."

"We have an office that offers comprehensive oral exams, restorative dentistry and preventive services for people who do not have the means," Ladone said. "We also take the strain off emergency rooms that are not equipped for dental care. We can put a lot of things back together again with restorative dentistry."

The services all are provided free. Two paid staff members run the office weekdays from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Organizers selected the location for the convenience of patients because it is served by a Pace bus line to the Wheaton Metra station and CTA transit station in Forest Park.

Call (630) 260-8530 or email for information, to make a donation to the 501(c) 3 clinic or to be placed on the foundation's mailing list.

For services the clinic is not able to provide, such as dentures, crowns or bridge work, staff can offer low-cost options for its patients, Ciebien said.

It is amazing what dedicated individuals can do when working for a common goal. After all, what price can be put on a person's most basic asset, a smile?

• Joan Broz writes about Lisle. Her columns appear regularly in Neighbor.

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