Amaus Dental Clinic provides free dental treatment in downtown Syracuse
By Mary Beth Roach
The staff at the Amaus Dental Clinic in downtown Syracuse give their patients plenty to smile about.
The dentists and staff, who all volunteer their time and skills, offer the services free of charge to their patients: the homeless, unemployed and uninsured in the Syracuse area. The services are for adults only, since care for children requires different equipment than the clinic has.
Just because patients may be financially disadvantaged doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get high quality care.
“We want them to feel comfortable coming in here,” said dentist David Dasher, who helped establish the clinic in 2014, oversaw its expansion in 2017 and is its current director.
The clinic, located at 259 E. Onondaga St., came about as part of the Amaus Health Clinic and is an outreach of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Syracuse. The cathedral offers them space rent-free and pays for the utilities. Its annual budget of $19,200 is covered by donations.
This year, nearly 700 patients have received services, which include exams, X-rays, hygiene, fillings and routine extractions. That number has grown steadily since the clinic first opened.
Dasher said that the increase can be can be attributed to several factors, including word of mouth, repeat patients, more dentists to offer services and the expanded facility that opened in February 2017.
Using comparative fees for the services they provide, he has estimated that their patients received services valued at $121,700 in 2018.
The clinic’s staff includes as many as eight dentists, six hygienists, four assistants and an administrative staff of eight — all who volunteer their time at the clinic, which is open 20 hours a week, Dasher said. It is not on a walk-in basis; appointments are required.
Some of the dental assistants are pre-dental students, from LeMoyne and Syracuse University, who work in the clinic for a while, gain some practical experience, and then apply to dental school.
Dasher is hopeful that their early work in the clinic will plant a seed to do similar volunteer work later in their career.
“Maybe they can find their way to give back somehow,” he said.
Upon retiring from the U.S. Air Force in the late 1990s after a 23-year career, Dasher started a community dental health program outside Dallas. When he came to Syracuse, Dasher began working at the Syracuse Community Health Center. He also did a study of 14 medical training programs in this area for a health foundation of Western and Central New York, to see what, if any, dental training the doctors might receive. He said students in medical school don’t get the appropriate knowledge of dental care. He said he offered to teach classes for these programs, but due to a lack of time in their curriculums, most of the programs weren’t able to accommodate him, except for LeMoyne College. He has been teaching in that college’s physician assistant program for about five years.
Physician Lynn Satterly, founder of the Amaus Health Clinic, knew of his study and asked him if he’d be interested in starting a dental program as part of the clinic.
So, in 2014, the dental clinic opened with one treatment room and donated equipment. The room lacked access to plumbing, so the dentists used a portable sink with plastic containers to provide sterile water and collect waste water. As the number of patients and volunteers both increased, they needed a larger space, according to Dasher.
And in February 2017, the new clinic at 259 E. Onondaga St., was opened. The $200,000-plus expansion included three treatment rooms, digital X-rays, electronic dental records, a sterilization center, a reception and waiting area, supply spaces, and a break/consultation room. The funding and dental equipment came from various foundations, dentists, dental supply companies and other individuals.
The need continues, and Dasher knows that they’re only beginning to scratch the surface, that there are thousands more who could their help. But while the need might be great, finding volunteers and funding can be a challenge.
“You can help people without going on a medical mission to Guatemala or Honduras. Just come to downtown Syracuse,” he said.
Despite these challenges, Dasher finds the work rewarding.
“The patients really appreciate it, and the good feeling you get from helping them and seeing them appreciate it,” he said.
Smiles all around.
Free Dental Care
The Amaus Dental Clinic provides free dental care out of its offices at 259 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse. It’s located at the back of a parking lot next to the offices of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown. Appointments are required. The phone number is 315-802-6741.