Loren Vinal was in pain due to a cracked tooth. But instead of booking an appointment, he got a dental ghosting. A note taped to the office door read: “Retired.”
Loren was dismayed. After he had a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) heart pump implanted in 2018 by the cardiac team at the University of Rochester Medical Center, he better understood the importance of good oral health because of the strong link between oral and heart health.
Eastman Institute for Oral Health was one of the options listed on the office door note for records transfer. It was far from his Corning, NY, home, but doable as Loren already made the four-hour roundtrip drive to URMC once every three months for a heart checkup.
His wife, Sandy Olson, called for an appointment and a few days later they met with the Specialty Care team. Loren immediately realized the disparity between his past dental care and Eastman.
“They didn’t just look at the one tooth; they took a look at everything and put together a dental plan,” he said. “I thought my old dentist was doing an okay job. My old dentist was a minor league player, and EIOH is clearly the major league.”
For the next 15 months, Loren and Sandy drove to Rochester twice a month for dental appointments. The full-mouth rehabilitation plan included two root canals, two posts and cores with crowns, four extractions, an upper partial denture, and a deep cleaning.
“It was complicated, but that’s what we do here. It’s important to come to a medical center for this type of care,” said Szilvia Arany, DDS, PhD, (GenDen ’17) who handled the fillings, crowns, and dentures.
In addition to prescribing antibiotics before each appointment, the dentists relied on specialized equipment called a Dopler to continuously measure Loren’s blood flow and monitor his bleeding because his blood does not clot easily. Sandy is a nurse, and was very helpful to the Eastman team about the Dopler.
“Not every dentist can accommodate or are comfortable treating high-risk patients,” said Nadejda Stephens, DDS, PhD, (GenDen ’10), who performed Loren’s oral surgeries. “Most don’t have the special training and equipment or know how to handle medical emergencies if they arise. We were grateful for Sandy’s recommendation and have since purchased our own Dopler for Loren and other patients who have an LVAD.”
The Specialty Care clinic treats patients with a wide range of complex medical issues, including patients on ventilators, or who have cancer, diabetes, obesity, rare syndromes, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. In addition, patients who are wheelchair bound or on a stretcher travel from around the state and neighboring states for Eastman’s expertise.
Given the volume of procedures Vinal needed and the long trek from Corning, the team of dentists, hygienists, and administrative staff coordinated efforts to limit the number of appointments by grouping his procedures when possible. They also took into consideration Loren’s heart appointments and gig schedule with his band, Loren V and the Heartbeats.
“As a musician, getting up to do anything at 7:30 a.m. is not in my comfort zone, but we always know it’s worth it,” said Loren. “It’s always impeccable service, efficient, professional, and delivered with kindness. They make me feel very important and cared for. We feel like family.”
Loren also appreciated EIOH’s efforts to advocate for him to his insurance company.
“It shouldn’t be this way, but they were willing to fight hard. It’s wonderful that the team was so kind and went the extra mile,” he said.
Loren and Sandy say that the level of care and willingness to help address any problem, dental or otherwise, continually exceeded their expectations.
For example, Loren says the team boosted his spirits by praising his ability to withstand discomfort, showed interest in his set list for upcoming gigs and in photos of his and Olson’s recent wedding. They offered kindness and assistance on days when his arthritis was acting up, and welcome Sandy in the room for both support and if Loren’s LVAD battery needed changing.
“We feel they are part of the family; this is their dental home. We always get excited to see them,” said Dr. Stephens, who makes it a point to say hello to Loren and Sandy each time they come in, even if he’s there to see another provider. Dr. Stephens even offered her cell number in case he needed a prescription or treatment while in Georgia for the winter.
“Once, when Loren was having difficulty finding an appointment before leaving for Georgia, the receptionist offered her own dental appointment slot. “It was a kind and unselfish act,” he said.
“Without truly knowing and understanding your patient, you’re not treating a person, you’re treating just a mouth and teeth,” said Dr. Arany. “For us, compassion is everything.”