Dental practice spreads joy with community outreach
Program has arranged for dental implants, wisdom teeth extraction and scholarships.
It’s been more than five months since Lisa Weller woke up with a new set of teeth.
Her teeth had been deteriorating for nearly two decades, and she had no plans or hope for a fix.
She couldn’t even afford dental insurance, and at a cost of $50,000 for a new set of teeth, it was out of the question — providing for her two daughters was her first priority.
“I was put on the back burner,” Weller said. “The kids have to come first.”
She had lost nearly all her teeth due to a decalcification condition when her sister texted her late last year about a contest for free oral reconstructive implant surgery.
This was the first Smile Again contest by Dr. Mark Jesin, who had opened Advanced Oral Surgery & Dental Implant Studio just a few months earlier in August 2018. He partnered with NG Dental Prosthetics, Neodent Dental Implant Company and McMahon Family Dental to offer the prize.
“Part of our philosophy is we're part of the community here, and we want to be known as giving back with the skills that we've been blessed to help out with,” Jesin said.
As soon as Weller arrived home from work, she sat in the car and filled out the application on her phone, crying as she searched for the words to explain her story.
She was told she was a semifinalist and was asked to visit the office in December with friends and family. It was just a setup, though, because that’s when they surprised her as the winner among 500 people who had entered the contest.
“This is the best thing I've ever received in my life,” Weller said. “They are so humbled. I’m the one who should be humbled, and I am. But they're treating me like I'm doing them a favor.”
Jan. 28 was the “big day.” Weller brought her mother with her and was put under light sedation.
“I went in the morning, and I woke up later on that day with teeth in my mouth,” she said.
She said there was surprisingly no pain during recovery, aside from a headache for a few weeks.
Weller has worked for the same boss at several fast food restaurants over the years. Since the surgery, she started working as the general manager for several Wendy’s restaurants in Kalamazoo. She said the employees there had no idea that her teeth are implants.
She said she used to cover her mouth when she talked or laughed. She wouldn’t even sing in the car. But now she feels free to smile, laugh, yawn and live in a way that many may take for granted.
Weller said the companies she has worked for always have been gracious about valuing her skills and experience over anything else, but that didn’t keep her from doubting herself.
“I always was nervous to change jobs because I always felt like I had to apologize right up front for the way I looked,” she said.
“Now, I have that extra boost of confidence. I don't feel apologetic anymore.”
Weller said she will receive her last teeth and final adjustments in the next few weeks. Then, she should be able to bite into an apple.
“I haven't done that in probably 25 years.”
This isn’t the only charity program Advanced Oral Surgery & Dental Implant Studio hosts. Jesin said the practice offers a different program for each season.
This summer was the first time the practice offered the Wisdom For Wisdom program, which awarded two students with free wisdom tooth extractions.
With the number of students facing high amounts of debt — he knows dental students, for example, can graduate owing $500,000 — Jesin said this is his practice’s way of helping. Without insurance, wisdom tooth extractions can cost as much as $3,000.
He said they also wanted to educate the community about the importance of prevention and removing wisdom teeth early.
During college age, problems with wisdom teeth can cause patients to need time off school because of infections or pain.
Late this spring, students submitted applications with a brief essay describing how the procedure would help them succeed. The recipients were selected based on factors such as academic achievement, financial need and necessity of extraction.
One of the students selected was Arnela Hamzagic of Caledonia. Her parents emigrated to the U.S. from Bosnia and have had to work hard to succeed financially, the practice said.
After she graduates high school, Hamzagic plans to attend Grand Rapids Community College to become a dental hygienist. She also has siblings who plan to attend college and worries that her parents will not be able to financially support all of them.
“She didn't want her wisdom teeth surgical procedure to be another financial burden on both her and her parents,” Jesin said. “Her story rang true to us as exactly the type of person that we were trying to help out — somebody who needs this. We wanted to remove those financial barriers.”
In March, the practice hosted a free informational and scholarship event for aspiring medical professionals, where two students in attendance won $1,000 scholarships and one received a $500 scholarship.
Now that Dr. AJ Lytle recently joined the practice, they will offer the free reconstructive surgery to two patients, one for each doctor.
An announcement for contest entries will be posted this fall on the practice’s Facebook page and website, at advancedoralsurgerymi.com.
Weller said she is excited for whoever is chosen for the procedures because she knows how much it has changed her life.
“I'm forever going to be grateful,” she said. “I can't imagine a gift like this. It's just selfless.”