A Reason to Smile
One of the first things people notice about us is our smile. However, for people who are experiencing dental problems, smiling may simply be too difficult.
For years, Esmeralda lived with poor oral health. She had swollen, bleeding gums, teeth that overlaid one another, and painful dental infections. She had tried at-home remedies to ease her pain but nothing helped. Esmeralda was fearful of going to the dentist.
Esmeralda happened to live in the same building as Judith Garcia, a senior community health worker at NorthPoint. As the two women got to know each other, Esmeralda confided in Judith about her dental pain. "At the time, Esmeralda was just 38 years old," says Judith. "She had severe gum disease, had already lost several teeth, and was so ashamed by her appearance that she did not smile." Judith gave Esmeralda a referral to NorthPoint's dental clinic and convinced her to set up an appointment.
"Esmeralda was shocked when she discovered how severe the gum disease was throughout her entire mouth," says Judith. "Many of her teeth couldn't be saved." Infection had spread throughout her jaw, making the bone soft. Esmeralda was faced with the difficult decision of either fighting to keep her teeth, knowing that the long-term prognosis was poor, or having them removed and being fitted for dentures. Esmeralda chose dentures. She eventually had eleven teeth extracted and received a full upper denture and a lower partial. "Her new teeth have not only improved her health," Judith says, "but her ability to eat, her appearance, and her self-confidence." These days, Esmeralda can't stop smiling.
"Everything has changed," says Esmeralda. "I couldn't eat an apple before but now I can bite any fruit I want." Esmeralda says her supervisor at work has also noticed the change in her. She's much happier now. "My fourteen-year-old daughter used to wonder why I never smiled in pictures. Now I smile all the time."
Esmeralda has become an unofficial recruiter for the dental clinic, Judith says. "Her husband, both of her daughters, and her mother and father are all patients here now; and the whole family has learned an important lesson on the value of preventative care." Esmeralda says she is thankful to Dr. Brooks, Judith, and the dental staff who helped change her life. However, she is even more thankful to NorthPoint for providing resources for individuals who would otherwise have no access to the services they need.
"It was truly a blessing to help Esmeralda with her dental needs," says Dr. Brooks. "I am extremely grateful I was able to connect with her on a level that engaged and motivated her to begin this dental journey. It is the time spent with patients like Esmeralda that reminds me why I am here at Northpoint. She was filled with sheer joy that day she received her teeth, as tears ran down her face. Her joy warmed my heart and reassured me that all those long nights of studying in school are really paying off now! It is her happiness and confidence in her smile that I wish all people could experience!"
In her role as a community health worker, Judith speaks to groups about NorthPoint's dental clinic. She works closely with Lesley Tuomi, a dental hygienist at NorthPoint, to do community outreach. "We visit area day care centers and schools and do dental screenings
and follow ups with parents," says Judith. "We also go to Centro Chicano de la Salud, a community center for seniors, and teach them how to take care of their dentures. We are constantly participating in outreach events throughout the community and providing dental education and referrals for people in need of care."
Many of NorthPoint's dental clients are referred by word of mouth and through the outreach work Judith and Lesley are doing in the community. "I come from this community. I am who I serve," Judith says. "As a community health worker, I want to help connect people to the resources they need, whether it's dental care, medical care, or access to the food shelf. This is where people can come to get help."