John Kelly's Washington

Your votes help D.C. clinic seek money for dental X-ray machine

Sister Janice Heisey runs the Spanish Catholic Center's dental clinic.
Sister Janice Heisey runs the Spanish Catholic Center's dental clinic. (John Kelly/the Washington Post)
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By John Kelly
Thursday, February 25, 2010

I counted two posters of Saint Apollonia on the second floor of 1618 Monroe St. NW. You can tell they're of Saint Apollonia because in both images a young woman is pictured with a pair of tongs that hold a single perfect tooth. The Christian martyr's teeth were all pulled out before she was burned to death in the third century for refusing to renounce her faith.

In the sometimes counterintuitive calculus of Roman Catholic sainthood, this makes Apollonia the patron saint of dentistry.

Luckily for the patients being treated Wednesday under Saint Apollonia's gaze at the dental clinic of the Spanish Catholic Center, dental care is a little gentler today. In one room, hygienist Ivy Johnson lectured a young woman about gum health. In another, endodontist Gael Delany evaluated a young man for a possible root canal. Next door, dentist Gregory Miller looked for cavities. They have modern medical tools at their disposal, but they'd like to upgrade their X-ray technology. If you have an Internet connection, you can help.

The nonprofit dental clinic, which serves Washington's poor, is trying to win a grant from Tom's of Maine, the toothpaste people. The Spanish Catholic Center is one of 16 U.S. clinics vying for $20,000, money it would use toward a new X-ray machine.

"I need quick and reliable X-ray assistance," Dr. Delany said. "The old machines are good but not as high-tech or efficient as digital radiography."

Dr. Delany is among more than a dozen dentists in private practice who volunteer at the clinic. Professors and residents from Howard University's dental school also pitch in, along with a team of staff dentists. The nonprofit center sees 400 patients a month; the vast majority are immigrants for whom insurance is an unaffordable luxury and dental care has not always been a high priority. What the clinic charges depends on what the patient can afford. Though the clinic treats people from dozens of countries -- Afghanistan to Zambia -- most are from Central America.

"We know how to say, 'Abre la boca,' with the best of them," Dr. Delany said. (That's Spanish for "Open your mouth.")

Overseeing the clinic is a nun, Sister Janice Heisey, from the Immaculate Heart of Mary order. Originally from Scranton, Pa., Sister Janice taught science in parochial schools in Pennsylvania and then worked as a medical technician. When she learned of the growing influx of immigrants in Washington, she decided to help. She came down to Washington and has been at the Spanish Catholic Center for going on 25 years. Her patients are incredibly grateful to be relieved of their pain, to be able to smile again.

"Dentistry is important to your whole overall oral health," she says. But too often, "it's the last thing people think of."

Sister Janice likens the Tom's of Maine contest to "Dancing With the Stars": A public vote will decide the winners, five in all. Surely we can make sure that Sister Janice's clinic, the only one in the D.C. area on the Tom's short list, is one of them. To vote, go to the Tom's of Maine Web site (www.tomsofmaine.com/community-involvement/dental-clinic.aspx) and scroll down to the Spanish Catholic Center's digital radiology project. The contest ends March 12. You may vote once a day.

I saw another interesting feature at the dental clinic: a small chapel. The Rev. Mario Dorsonville says mass there three mornings a week. I think every dentist's office should have one, a place to seek last-minute divine intervention before the bitewing X-rays come back.

Working over time

I think I've learned as much from jobs I didn't like doing as from jobs I did. How about you? What lessons have you learned from a life as a productive member of the workforce?

Next month I'll be speaking to a group of high school students as part of the Montgomery County Business Roundtable for Education's annual Young Professionals Conference. I'm curious what advice you have for teens thinking about careers. What invaluable lessons have you learned on the job? Whether you're a parking valet or a CEO, e-mail your advice -- with "Takin' Care of Business" in the subject field -- to me at kellyj@washpost.com, or write John Kelly, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

Join me Friday at noon for my weekly online chat. Go to http://www. washingtonpost.com/discussions.


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