No Pain, No Gain –
“Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.” — Albert Schweitzer
Ron Kehl wakes up every day asking, “What have I done for others?” For 12 years, Ron ran a private dental practice. He spent his days dealing with the administrative aspects of running a business, not his true passion — dentistry. He realized he had to get back to why he studied to be a dentist in the first place. And so he took a position as the in-house dentist for the Fourth Street Clinic. “I saw a need, and I realized that these people are less fortunate, not by any choice of their own, and to treat someone who has a need is to see the power of kindness.”
At a remarkable average of 1,000 patients per year, Ron’s passion doesn’t come without its challenges. Unlike a private practice, Ron and his team provide more procedures but have fewer patients, with an average of 12 patient visits per day. The challenges are varied; most patients are grateful and kind, but they hate the dentist. “It isn’t easy to be hated when your sole mission is to help … I guess you just have to give pain to cure pain.”
An unspoken skill set for a dentist is to build relationships with patients and listen as they explain what is bothering them. Ron instructs his visiting students more about patient relations than dentistry. “With our patients, there are a lot of mental and behavioral issues. Listening, truly listening, makes it easier on the patient and on us.” Furthermore, by the time a patient comes to see Ron, they may have gone months without help. Without insurance, there isn’t any place to go. “By the time they see me, they may have been to the ER, been on antibiotics, and now, there is nothing they can do. We actually solve the problem … in a sense; we are kind of the end game. By avoiding more costly ER visits, we provide a fortune in savings.”
For Ron and the patients he helps, dental care is life-changing. Day-to-day, Ron is treating abscesses, extracting teeth, and fitting dentures. This clinic is not doing standard annual cleanings. Ron’s work focuses on treating patients so that they can benefit from necessities such as proper nutrition, job seeking and pain relief. These patients aren’t just suffering from mouth pain; there is a social aspect as well. “And think about it,” Ron explains, “if you don’t have your front teeth, the reality is that you likely won’t get the job.” He goes on to illuminate that we take our teeth and dental health for granted. If you are missing teeth, you are likely not able to eat a balanced diet, and poor nutrition leads to a host of more serious issues.
Smiling, he adds, “What I like best — the instant gratification. A person comes in and you think a person is angry or upset; they don’t smile or open their mouths. Their identity is compromised by their broken smile. But after we help them, they are so happy.” In his work, Ron believes that life satisfaction comes from helping others. His hope is that kindness will spread, starting with him and his patient, spilling over from one person to the next.
At the heart of our community are people like Ron Kehl and organizations like Fourth Street Clinic. Here, 67% of the people they serve are uninsured, 79% are white, 93% live at or below the federal poverty level and 65% are homeless or living on the street.
Click here to follow the Heart of Our Community blog. Throughout April we will be sharing more stories about the caring staff of Fourth Street Clinic and some of the patients whose lives have been improved through their care.
It’s people like Ron that make our community great!