After receiving more than 120 applications, an oral surgeon group will pick a patient Thursday for life-changing dental surgery.
Dr. Russell Lieblick and Dr. Brandon Rehrer of Beacon Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons are spearheading the Second Chance to Smile program. In its first year, the surgeons are donating full-arch replacement surgery – a procedure that typically costs $28,000 to $35,000 – to someone with severe dental problems.
Some candidates endure tremendous pain. Many will not smile in public.
Once a patient is chosen and the surgery is scheduled, Rehrer, Lieblick and an unnamed dentist will work together to remove all the teeth and insert implants. Most dentists don’t have the training to perform the surgery, and maxillofacial surgeons are second only to anesthesiologists in the amount of training they receive to put a patient under.
Lieblick said he sees a lot of patients in need of the treatment, but many people can’t afford it.
“We decided that it would be something really nice to be able to give back to the community,” he said.
The surgeons accepted applications from March 11 to May 11 and invited patients to come in June 1 for a short exam and interview in one of two locations, Gresham and Vancouver, Wash. The group also has offices in Milwaukie and The Dalles.
Despite the number of applications received, only about half the candidates showed up for their appointments.
Jock Putney, spokesman for the surgeons’ group, said it’s likely many of the no-shows were people who couldn’t get off work or away from other responsibilities. Perhaps they didn’t have transportation.
Even among the ones who showed up, Putney said they almost didn’t. “They said they thought it was too good to be true, and they thought it was a scam.”
Many patients at the Gresham office became emotional in their interviews with staff.
Celestia Read, 52, of Keizer, said bad teeth run in her family and her problems started about 10 years ago. She tried to keep up with the dental work, but her mouth worsened and the medical bills piled up.
Outside of family, Read said she tends to seclude herself because she doesn’t feel comfortable showing her face. She has broken teeth and experiences infections. Once, she said, it got so bad that her whole face and an eye swelled up.
“Sometimes I just think maybe I wouldn’t care so much about how I look,” she said. “I just would like to not be in pain.”
Kristopher Pixley, 24, of Gresham, is three years sober from meth and just wants someone to hire him.
“At this point (my ambition is) just to be a good person, raise my kid and be a good dad,” he said.
Pixley said he’s always had bad teeth, but the situation worsened with drugs. He’s missing 12 teeth on top and said about 12 more are rotting on the bottom.
Pixley was incarcerated for 19 months and said he has spent the past 18 months looking for work.
“A lot of people these days will look at somebody who’s missing teeth and automatically think they’re using (drugs), or just all around think that they have bad hygiene and everything because of their past mistakes,” he said. “It’d mean a lot to me to be able to have teeth again.”
Other stories included a man who received bad dental care in Tijuana; a retired truck driver who ties dental health to his mental health; and a woman whose mother opted to have her teeth pulled at age 15 instead of fixed.
Many patients said that even if they aren’t selected, they will still be happy to see someone receive the surgery.
Lieblick said it’s going to be a tough decision.
“Some of the people are really in need, and their stories are extremely compelling,” he said. “So it will be both exciting and heartbreaking at the same time.”
Putney said plans are underway to find ways to help the other candidates.
Lieblick and Rehrer have narrowed the decision to 10 applicants and will announce the recipient Thursday morning at the Aerie at Eagle Landing in Happy Valley.