By Alexander Germanis
There is no greater way to attain a form of immortality than by doing good works. This Veteran’s Day, November 11, the doctors of Doran, Capodice, Efaw, and Ocheltree, LLC, are once again joining with local dentists to bring the Gary Johnson Free Dental Clinic to the community.
Named for Dr. Gary Johnson, a dentist who spent his career in the Bloomington/Normal community, the semiannual clinic is celebrating its 20th year of bringing free dental pain relief to those who may be finding it hard to make ends meet. As the doctors prepare for the clinic, they explain why it carries Dr. Johnson’s name, what services he performed, and what his legacy continues to do for those in McLean County.
“Dr. Gary Johnson was a long-term established dentist in the community when we started this and he never missed a clinic,” says Stephen Doran, DMD, “He always showed up at six in the morning with his lab coat and his tie on and worked till everybody was gone. He treated the people (who came to the clinic) just like he treated everyone else. He was a pure professional. He was old school; there aren’t many guys like him left.”
Nearly ten years ago, Dr. Johnson died of a sudden cardiac event in his sleep. His sudden and surprising passing made the doctors realize just what a vital spirit he had brought to the clinic, and so naming the clinic for him made perfect sense.
Thomas Ocheltree Jr., DMD, continues: “The free clinic was up and running long before I got here, but fortunately, I got a chance to meet Gary Johnson before he passed away. He came to every single clinic and helped in any way he could. He was a great guy; he was one of those guys who told it like it was, was honest with his patients, and honest with his referrals.”
Dr. Johnson’s widow, Chris, has been keeping her husband’s contribution alive ever since. She donates $1,000 every clinic in order to pay for disposables like anesthetic. That money goes a long way in helping bring relief to literally thousands of McLean County residents.
The clinic began as a way to help the McLean County Health Department in serving more of the adult population who could not afford normal dental services. “Most of these people are dental phobics, most of them have not had access to care, so they have big dental problems,” Jack Capodice Jr., MD, DMD, states. “Despite all their fears and their previous poor experiences — as episodic painful dental intervention is all a lot of them have had in their lifetime — they are the most appreciative, cooperative, and patient patients.”
That appreciation comes largely from pain relief. “One of the big reasons people go to the emergency room is for dental pain. The number-one physical ailment of mankind is dental decay,” explains David Efaw, MD, DDS. “The pain affects the ability to go about a normal daily routine. Getting out of pain is a big deal and lack of access to that care is a big issue.”
Most of what is done at the clinic in order to combat that pain is tooth extraction, as that is a common result of not getting regular dental care. Extractions and pain relief are only part of the story. Self-esteem is often just as important. To serve that purpose, part of the money donated to the clinic goes to Ottawa Dental, which uses it to provide temporary partial dentures for people getting their front teeth taken out. According to the doctors, just having those teeth back can give someone the confidence and improved appearance to land them a new job or simply perform at a better level in their existing work.
Bringing those good feelings, both physical and emotional, meant a lot to Dr. Gary Johnson, it means a lot to the doctors, and it means a great deal to the other community volunteers and contributing dentists from the area. Indeed, participating in the clinic has become a contagious thing. “Everybody wants to be here,” Dr. Capodice says. “If they can’t make it for some reason, they’re apologetic about it.”
“All of us were born and raised here, so we want to do something for the community,” says Dr. Efaw. “It has been really good for everybody because it gets the community together on an emergency primary-care basis.”
“It is so rewarding to treat that population,” Dr. Capodice concludes. “In medicine and dentistry we say we’re going to help people, and this is the purest form of health at a local, primary level. Community volunteers come and help just for the sake of helping. You can see this impact you’re having in your own community. It’s really a terrific thing.”
The Dr. Gary Johnson Free Dental Clinic takes place on November 11th, from 7:00am–10:00am at the offices of Doran, Capodice, Efaw, and Ocheltree, LLC, 309 Regency Dr. in Bloomington.
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