Phyllis Adams, a harpist, and Monty Adams, a flutist, both moved to Chicago in the 1970s, met in a locker room at Orchestra Hall, fell in love and married.
What they didn't realize at the time was how hard it would be for two musicians to get by without health or dental insurance. Recently, they were two of 25 musicians in Chicago who received care at a free mobile dental clinic that specifically serves musicians.
"I really wouldn't be able to keep up with the care that I need otherwise," Phyllis Adams said.
The mobile clinic, part of Smile Programs, primarily works in schools but also has partnered with MusiCares, a charitable arm of the Grammys, to serve musicians across the country.
To qualify for the dental clinic, musicians have to prove financial need and that they've worked in the industry for at least five years. Sherwen Moore, a Chicago jazz saxophone player who also used the clinic during its recent stop in the area, said that even though emerging musicians can't participate in the dental clinic, the musicians who do take part have been through the early years of struggle as well.
"That's like paying dues," Moore said. "For the musicians here who have paid their dues, this is like a nice little plus, like a little oasis of health."
This safety net was crucial to the Adamses, they said, after a hard-hit economy and health problems lowered their wages and increased their need for insurance.
For years, the Adamses made a comfortable living playing with various orchestras as well as performing duets together at weddings and other events. Monty Adams still conducts two Evanston-based ensembles -- the Ridgeville Band of Evanston and the Lakeside Flutes -- but when Phyllis Adams had to go on thyroid medication, which also affected her dental health, he decided to take a job that could provide health insurance.
Most recently, Monty Adams has enjoyed working as a science teacher at Latino Youth High School, which puts his biology master's degree to use. Still, he said, the dental insurance under his benefits doesn't cover much.
"It hardly pays anything, and I'm already so into debt with my own dentist," he said.
The Evanston couple ran up large bills with a dentist they both liked and still have about $1,000 to pay, they said. The Adamses decided they couldn't afford to go to him anymore about six months ago. On Friday, Monty Adams had a cavity filled in an overflow mobile dentist van parked outside the Chicago Federation of Musicians building on the Near West Side. His wife had a cleaning inside, in a large practice facility.
"(Without the clinic) we probably wouldn't be able to get the dental work that I need right now," Monty Adams said.
Many of the musicians haven't had a checkup or cleaning in years.
"If you think of someone who may not have insurance or a regular day job, it's easy (for them) to think, 'I can put off going to the dentist. I'll live with it,' " said Kristen Madsen, senior vice president of the Grammy Foundation and MusiCares.
The clinic provides X-rays, cleanings, fillings and extractions for the musicians. California-based dentist Elliot Schlang, who travels around the country with the dental clinic serving schools and musicians, said missing out on preventive care can lead to serious problems later.
During the recent Chicago stop, one patient's teeth were so decayed that they had to be pulled.
Even just giving someone the opportunity to leave with clean teeth and fresh breath makes it worth it, Schlang said.
Moore plays in a duo called Two Cold and supports himself gig by gig. He's hoping to get rehired with Chicago Public Schools, where he used to work. But in the interim, he said, he's been coming to the dental clinic, which makes stops in Chicago every six months.
"For me, personally," Moore said, "this is like a blessing for me."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun