Not much ‘ouch’ at Misericordia on-site dental clinic

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, November 1, 2015

Not much ‘ouch’ at Misericordia on-site dental clinic

Dr. Anna Wu consults Mike, a resident, about a problem he is having with his teeth while hygienist Jena Ruzich looks on. They are in one of the rooms of the new dental clinic at Misericordia, 6300 N. Ridge Ave, on Oct. 26. Karen Callaway/Catholic New World
Dr. Anna Wu replaces a filling on Delia, a resident, while hygienist Jena Ruzich holds her hand. Dental Assistant Camille Danolko assists Wu. Between opening in late March and the end of September, the clinic has had 217 desensitization visits and provided hygiene services in 227 visits. Eighty-four dental caries, or cavities, were diagnosed, and more than 22 teeth needed to be extracted. Karen Callaway/Catholic New World

Imagine going to see a dentist without a lengthy stop in the waiting room, or even having to pass through a waiting room at all.

Imagine having your dental visit in a bright room, with sunlight coming in through the windows and cheerful art. Imagine spending time in the dental office just talking with the hygienist or even engaging in crafts or other projects.

For some residents at Misericordia Heart of Mercy, that’s reality.

Because of the generosity of Thomas and Vita Donovan and other supporters Misericordia started an on-site dental clinic in early 2015, with a full-time hygienist and assistant and a dentist two days a week.

So far, about half the residents have taken advantage of the new clinic, according to dental hygienist Jena Ruzich.

Until the Donovan Dental Clinic opened, residents were taken by their parents or other family members to outside dental clinics or private dentists. But such trips could be difficult for the developmentally disabled residents at Misericordia, or for aging parents who must help adult children who might not be fully mobile.

The facility worked closely with dentists who have experience treating developmentally disabled patients to create the clinic.

Patients are welcome in the dental clinic even when they don’t have a formal appointment, as long as the clinic isn’t busy. They can talk with the staff and learn more about how to take care of their teeth.

Ruzich, who works with dental assistant Camille Danolko, said she enjoys working at Misericordia because of the interaction she has with her patients. When she’s not busy in the clinic itself, she visits the residences to teach her patients proper hygiene or teach Misericordia staff techniques to better care for their charges’ teeth.

“It started when we heard a lot of complaints about how hard it was to get their children to the dentist,” said Mary Pat O’Brien, assistant executive director of residence and programs for Misericordia. “We were hearing from the families that there was a need.”

In keeping with not having a reception desk or waiting room, there also is no cashier. The clinic is supported by fees and contributions.

Some residents have private dental insurance and Danolko handles that, O’Brien said. Other residents no longer have family able to support them. In those cases, Misericordia relies on donors to cover the cost of their care.

Misericordia received a grant and raised money from individual donors and was able to open the clinic in March, and got help from local dentists.

Dr. John Lynch, a dentist and the nephew of Sister Rosemary Connelly, Misericordia’s longtime executive director, helped design the dental clinic along with O’Brien and decided on furniture and equipment. Dr. James Benz of the Illinois Masonic Dental Center, which treats many Misericordia residents, also helped plan the clinic and has done some work there.

Now Dr. Anna Wu and Dr. Ashley Kauffman, both area dentists, work one day a week each at the clinic.

But Ruzich is the main contact for the patients, and she can spend the time she needs to make them comfortable.

“A lot of it is desensitization training,” O’Brien said.

Between opening in late March and the end of September, the clinic has had 217 desensitization visits and provided hygiene services in 227 visits. Eighty-four dental caries, or cavities, were diagnosed, and more than 22 teeth needed to be extracted.

One resident, Jessica, who was getting her teeth cleaned on a Thursday morning, said she loves coming to the clinic. Jessica lives in the Shannon Apartments among Misericordia’s most independent residents, and said she likes the opportunity to go to the clinic, although she liked visiting her old dentist, as well.

“But Jenna and Camille are really nice,” she said.

While she isn’t a dentist, Ruzich can do some minor procedures and take steps to help keep a patient comfortable until a dentist can see them in the event of a dental emergency, she said. The clinic had 26 emergency visits between March and September.

Ruzich has taught tooth brushing skills by dyeing hardboiled eggs and having residents try to remove the color by brushing, or taping the bottoms of two-liter soda bottles together to demonstrate the bumps and ridges a toothbrush must navigate to thoroughly clean teeth.

“I like it because I have the opportunity to get to know my patients and interact with them in a way I couldn’t in a private clinic setting,” Ruzich said.


  • misericordia
  • donovan dental clinic

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