Walking alongside patients
Dr. Steven Bender ’86 has the credibility that comes from ‘walking the talk’: He’s lived through many of the same experiences as his patients in the Clinical Center for Facial Pain and Sleep Medicine. For 14 years, Bender practiced restorative dentistry. Frustrated by his own lifelong headaches and jaw pain, he began a quest for answers. It led Bender to a niche within dentistry: pain management for the head, neck, temporomandibular joints and oral cavity.
In 2000, after completing a mini-residency and a two-year preceptorship at what was then known as the Parker E. Mahan Facial Pain Center at the University of Florida, he dedicated his Plano, Texas, practice solely to patients suffering from these conditions. With the shift in focus came unique expertise and recognition. Bender has achieved fellowship status with the American Academy of Orofacial Pain, the American Headache Society and, in 2014, the American College of Dentists. By 2015, Bender had assumed the presidency of the American Academy of Orofacial Pain.
In 2016, he officially set up shop at Texas A&M College of Dentistry as director of its new pain and sleep center. Bender helped make the clinic a reality beginning in 2013, in large part through his willingness to work as a part-time volunteer faculty member at the dental school, seeing pain patients two mornings a month.
Helping to bridge that transition to the dental college with Bender is Program Coordinator Linda Brock, his assistant of more than 10 years. She schedules appointments, welcomes patients, prepares and sterilizes the exam room and, for new patients, gathers data and records the patient narrative. But her contributions go much further than that. In a sense, she walks alongside patients — as a medical assistant, counselor and friend — checking in on them in the days and weeks following their appointments, synthesizing details and getting a feel for what triggers their pain.
Her role helps funnel information to Bender and further sustain patient care.
“Linda is probably most known for her faith and her willingness to share a message of hope to all she meets,” says Bender. “I often think that our patients come primarily to visit with Linda and not me!”