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Men recovering from addiction receive free dental care in Baltimore Highlands

When 19 men emerge from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry flashing new, bright smiles as early as Jan. 9, the grins won't be the result of just one day of work at the Baltimore facility.

The crucial preparation work was performed during a Dec. 17 event hosted by Fiastro Dental in Baltimore Highlands during which 20 volunteers donated their services to the 19 men recovering from addiction.

The patients were all part of the Helping Up Mission, a one-year residential recovery program in Baltimore for men recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

Dentists John and Eva Fiastro, owners of Fiastro Dental, teamed up with six other dentists, seven dental students and five members of their staff for the Saturday morning event.

Eva Fiastro said $23,000 worth of services and extractions were performed during last month's event.

"For a variety of reasons, these teeth needed to come out," she said a week after the event. "These guys are ready for the next phase of dentistry."

"Their appearance, their ability to function will all be improved by the procedures they have," said her husband, who started in the practice in 1977. "This is really a major advantage for them."

Dr. Nancy Ward, a dentist who worked on the patients, noted that without the free prep work, the $1,500 allowance the men have may not cover all the procedures needed to be done at the school.

"It cost about $1,500 (each) to replace the guys' teeth," Ward said. "If they use all the funding to get their teeth extracted, sometimes, they don't get all the work they need done."

The treatments, Eva Fiastro said, came as part of an outreach day from The Pankey Institute, a continuing education program for dentists that encourages providing dental care to the underserved.

Each dentist who volunteered was part of the Pankey Institute.

Funding for the work at the dental school comes from grants written by Towson University and totals about $120,000 each year, said Ward, a volunteer at the University of Maryland's School of Dentistry as part of the dean's faculty.

Keith Daye, a program manager at the Helping Up Mission, said the mission began sending patients to the dental school about five years ago.

Only men who have completed five months in the mission qualify for comprehensive care, which includes procedures such as fitting dentures, Daye said.

Members of the organization who haven't qualified for comprehensive care do receive treatment in the event of an emergency, Daye noted.

About half of the 425 men in the mission, have been in the program five months, Daye said.

Daye said he was grateful for what Fiastro Dental and the other volunteers did, and that it was more than just work.

"I look at it as an act of love," he said, noting the event was held only eight days before Christmas.

"It was cheerful giving, with smiles and everything," Daye said. "It wasn't just pull and let go (either)."

Daye noted that the dentist's office had prescription medication ready for the patients and followed up a few days after the surgeries to check on everyone's health.

On Dec. 28, Daye said that the patients were recovering well.

"I think (the patients) are seeing that they don't have to do this recovery alone," John Fiastro said. "They have different people helping them at small steps along the way."

The Fiastros said this will likely become an annual event for their office.

"This was a special gift that our staff gave these guys," John Fiastro said. "(At the end of that day), you were tired because you had done a lot of work.

"But you left with a really good feeling that in some small way you had done something good."

In addition to the Fiastros and Ward, Drs. Ed Zebovitz; Charles Ward, no relation to Nancy; Dennison Byrne; Melody Daroogar; and Devon Conklin, Nancy Ward's daughter, donated their time.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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