Rooney’s Story

-The Community Health Team-

One of our dental hygienists was so inspired by one of her pediatric patients, she decided to write about it. February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. In accordance with that, we wanted to share her story. This is her story, and the Community Health Mission in action. 

Meet Rooney

As a Dental Hygienist at Community Health and Dental Care (CHDC), I see a lot of smiles — but one stands out. Rooney Salazar radiates joy each and every time he enters a room. Just seeing his name show up on my daily schedule brightens my day. 

Rooney comes in every six months, for the standard pediatric dental care of teeth cleanings, x-rays, fluoride, and a formal exam by the dentist. Going to the dentist might not seem like the most fun thing in the world, and even might be scary — especially for a ten year old boy. Yet, Rooney arrives to our dentist office every time with a big smile. As his smile get closer on the walk from waiting room to dentist chair, he opens up his arms to greet me with a hug. 

Back in the summer of 2019, I saw Rooney’s name on my day’s schedule. I grinned at the thought of Rooney’s welcoming hug.  

But when he showed up with his mom, there were no grins. Rooney’s mom informed me that Rooney didn’t like his teeth. 

Rooney’s teeth are clean and cavity-less — he’s not even close to getting one. He brushes twice a day, and he even flosses sometimes, too. “How couldn’t he like his teeth? What could it possibly be?” I thought. 

Rooney’s Problem

“The kids at school. They tease him,” Mom told me in a Hispanic accent. 

My heart sank into my stomach. Rooney was such a sweet boy. And he had healthy teeth. But we identified him having bite and crowding issues, which made his teeth stick out and overlap one another in the front of his mouth. 

Getting teased turned Rooney’s smile into a frown. After finding out Rooney’s insurance wouldn’t cover orthodontic treatment until he was 12 years old — almost two years away — I started to frown, too. 

It was difficult to accept that I couldn’t help Rooney. It was difficult to explain to Mom, too, because her main language was Spanish. But thanks to Gladys, our Spanish-speaking Community Health Worker, we were able to translate the unfortunate news without a problem. 

After talking to Mom, it felt real. It was difficult to accept that fighting for Rooney was over. It was difficult to think that we couldn’t do anything. It was difficult to imagine Rooney getting teased and bullied. 

Fighting for Rooney

I come into work every day seeking to fulfill the collective CHDC Mission. of providing quality healthcare to our patients and making a positive impact in each of their lives. Sometimes this means calming down a child nervous for their first dental visit, and making them feel comfortable. Sometimes this means reassuring a concerned parent that we’ll take care of their child’s teeth. Sometimes this means showing both a child and parent the right way to brush and floss. But this time, we didn’t have an answer. 

“How can I help Rooney? How can I fulfill the CHDC mission?” I thought. “Ah, that’s it!” I screamed aloud in my head. 

I remembered working with a local orthodontist, Dr. Leonardo Galletto. We had success with him helping some of our patients in the past, so I gave him a call. Without hesitation he agreed to set up a consultation with his associate, Dr. Megan McCarthy. 

Dr. McCarthy would evaluate Rooney’s bite and teeth crowding. Even better, she and her orthodontist office would provide any treatment needed at no cost to Rooney’s family. 

I couldn’t believe it. I was doubtful. I got frustrated. I just wanted to give the care Rooney needed. I couldn’t wait to share the amazing news and generous offer with Rooney and his mother. 

Rooney, Thriving

I still look forward to seeing Rooney’s name pop up on my schedule once every six months for his regular dental checkups. He sports a big smile — but now I see changes in it. Changes that straighten his teeth and refine his smile. Changes that give him a positive self-image and make him feel more confident at school. 

When we become mission-oriented, patient-centered healthcare professionals — rather than mere providers of medical and dental service — we are able to manifest significant changes in our communities and in community members’ lives. When we put our patients first and find ways to get them the care they need, children like Rooney get health — and happy.