Dentistry from the heart
Volunteers at one alum’s practice open their hearts — and office doors — to those in need this Valentine’s Day.
Come Friday morning, starry-eyed valentines will have (hopefully) purchased their gifts of chocolates, flowers and mementos — little trinkets just to let loved ones know they care.
Tomorrow at the Southlake, Texas, dental practice of Dr. Tim Huckabee ’87, dentists, staff members and volunteers, including D4s David Szalay and Brett Titensor, will offer a heartwarming gift to complete strangers.
Since 2008, Huckabee Dental has participated in Dentistry from the Heart, providing more than $65,000 in free dental care to approximately 150 patients at each annual event. During the past 13 years since the now international nonprofit was founded at a Tampa, Fla., private practice, thousands of oral health professionals have provided more than $5 million in free care to adults in their communities. At Huckabee Dental, the outreach initiative is scheduled for the Friday closest to Valentine’s Day. This year it just so happens to fall on the 14th.
Patients arrive early. Some even camp out in the parking lot the night before to ensure a good spot for registration, which begins at 6 a.m. Associates Dr. David White ’05 and Dr. Brett Baker, seven hygienists and several local dentist volunteers treat patients in the 12-chair clinic on a first-come, first-served basis. TV ads were placed in the past; now that isn’t necessary. Word spreads months in advance. Patients may choose one of three treatments: extractions, fillings or cleanings, and they don’t leave empty-handed. Follow-up care recommendations are part of the deal, as is a Chick-fil-A lunch donated by the fast-food chain, intended to satiate appetites for those waiting hours in line for treatment.
“We thought for years there was a safety net missing for adults who have dental issues and end up in emergency rooms, are given antibiotics and then just let go,” says Huckabee. “This is that safety net. We see some of these patients year after year after year.”
Huckabee’s conversation with one patient remains etched in his memory. During one of the practice’s previous Dentistry from the Heart events, a Garland man finished his graveyard shift at 5 a.m. and drove across the DFW metroplex to have a tooth pulled.
“I asked him, ‘Why haven’t you done this before?’” says Huckabee. “He responded, ‘I only make $8.50 an hour, and if I had a tooth pulled it would cost me $250.’
“It’s a week’s salary for him to get a tooth taken out. That’s the guy I want to treat.”
Huckabee has some advice for fellow alumni considering whether to host Dentistry from the Heart events of their own.
“Don’t be afraid to do it. It has a way of working out like it should. Just see as many people as you can; open your door, and open your heart.”—Jenny Fuentes