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Bellevue man gets free dental care to prepare him for kidney transplant surgery

Dr. Judson Werner and Stan Day - Courtesy photo
Dr. Judson Werner and Stan Day
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Depending on your perspective, a visit to the dentist might be seen as a small annoyance. But if you happen to be a person preparing for a kidney transplant, the state of your oral health is vital to receiving a donated organ — and it might seem like a luxury beyond reach.

There can be no infection in a patient’s body — including the mouth — as the gurney wheels into the operating room for transplant surgery. Considering that more than half of the people receiving dialysis at Northwest Kidney Centers have limited access to dental care because they live in poverty, clearing the oral health hurdle can be a significant challenge.

Dentist volunteers from the Seattle-King County Dental Society are piloting a program to help dialysis patients from Northwest Kidney Centers get free dental care.

One of those patients is 67-year-old Stan Day of Bellevue.

“My teeth needed a lot of work,” Day said. “I couldn’t afford to do practically anything.”

Calcium build-up is a side effect of dialysis. Day, who has polycystic kidney disease, first went on dialysis in June 1979. Although he’s had two successful kidney transplants that each lasted several years, he was back on dialysis in the mid-1990s.

“The calcium made my teeth thin and soft,” said Day. “My teeth literally kept breaking, right and left.”

After a solid cleaning and three fillings, Day’s dental issues are nearly gone.

“There’s still some work to be done, but so far so good,” he said. “I’m so thankful that this opportunity is mine.”

Dentists Bart Johnson and Amy Winston, along with Northwest Kidney Centers volunteer Judy Peterson, helped set up this “Access to Dental” program, which matches volunteer dentists with low-income patients with chronic kidney disease.

“Our goal is to walk into any Northwest Kidney Centers location, look in any patient’s mouth, and see no infections,” said Winston, who with Johnson own Seattle Special Care Dentistry in Seattle.

More than half of NKC patients are below the poverty level and don’t have access to good dental care.

“I have worked in dentistry for many years,” said Peterson. “As someone with chronic kidney disease, I know how important dental care is to kidney patients.”

Right now, eight Northwest Kidney Center patients are screened a month and the program has nearly 20 dentist volunteers. Jennifer Freimund, executive director of the Seattle-King County Dental Society, hopes to eventually have 50 dentists on board.

“By adding dentists to our panel, we can reach even more patients, and at a quicker rate,” said Freimund. “Patients are truly grateful to our dentists for providing this much-needed treatment.”

Dentist Judson A. Werner, who treated Day, encourages other dentists to join this program.

“This is a patient population that really needs our help,” said Werner, who practices in Bellevue. “We need more dentists to donate more dentistry, and we need more programs like this partnership to target charitable giving for those who really need it.”

Francie Kay is Public Relations Specialist with Northwest Kidney Centers in Seattle.

Dentists or oral surgeons who are interested in volunteering with the program can contact Jennifer Freimund at jennifer@skcds.com or 206-443-7607.

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