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Serving the Underserved
Reaching out to impoverished patients is all in a day’s work for some area dentists.

For years, three words summed up Laurie Hodnik’s approach to dental care: Just pull it. A fixed income and a reduction in hours at work during the Great Recession made it too difficult for Hodnik to pay for dental services. Past dental visits made her fearful of scheduling regular exams. Instead, when a painful tooth forced her into the dentist’s chair, she would elect to have the damaged or diseased tooth removed because the financial costs associated with the treatment options were outside her budget.

“I didn’t have insurance, so the cheapest thing [to do] was to pull it,” the 51-year-old Milwaukeean explains.

By age 45, Hodnik was missing a significant number of teeth, leaving a sizable gap in her smile and, she says, her self-confidence. She brushed regularly, but complications from diabetes threatened the health of her remaining teeth. So in 2008, when more dental pain forced her to make another appointment, she expected to lose more teeth.

But this time, she heard three different words: “I’ll help you.”

“When I saw her, something told me she needed help,” recalls Dr. Lynn Lepak-McSorley, a dental surgeon.

Lepak-McSorley is no stranger to donating her time. As a volunteer at Head Start dental screenings and past chair of Milwaukee’s Give Kids a Smile event, the Milwaukee dentist

understands the importance of providing dental services to the city’s underserved. “But at the time, I didn’t know much about the WDA’s Donated Dental Services program,” she admits. Hodnik’s story prompted her to learn more.

Lepak-McSorley discovered that the program allows Wisconsin dentists to volunteer their services to one or two patients a year. Patients are selected based on need, usually due to low income, a permanent disability, chronic illness or advanced age.

“Her story broke my heart,” Lepak-McSorley says.

Over the next several months, Lepak-McSorley donated approximately $3,000 worth of dental services to replace Hodnik’s teeth and restore a little confidence.

“Ever since, she has been faithful about checkups,” Lepak-McSorley says.

“It’s the least I could do to say thank you,” says Hodnik. Today, Hodnik is back to a full 40-hour workweek, which means she can set aside money for regular dental appointments. Between visits, she is vigilant about practicing good oral hygiene.

“Even if you can’t see a dentist regularly, brushing and flossing are affordable things you can do to keep your teeth healthy,” says Hodnik, who happily reports she’s had zero cavities since meeting Lepak-McSorley.

“I’m not going to let this opportunity go by,” she says. “She gave me a chance to start over.”

This article appears in the February 2014 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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