Dental service shows off new suite to potential volunteers

Bishop Robert J. Cunningham blesses the renovated and expanded facilities at Amaus Dental Services in Syracuse Feb. 10. He is assisted by Dr. Robert Fangio, an Amaus volunteer dentist who is also a deacon at Holy Family Church in Syracuse. (Sun photo | Chuck Wainwright)

By Tom Maguire, Associate editor

A lighthearted dental clinic? Non-gaseous smiles and laughter? It can happen with the blessings of the bishop.

Amaus Dental Services, which offers free dental care in Syracuse for people who are financially fragile or uninsured, erupted in celebration of its renovation and expansion Feb. 10. 

Bishop Robert J. Cunningham blessed the new area — Suite 202 — in the Bishop Curley Building next to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The clinic is very proud of its digital panoramic X-ray machine, and in complementary fashion the bishop too made a circular sweep, sprinkling holy water into every room.

The bishop noted that by serving the dentally ill with “tender charity,” Amaus will serve Christ himself.

“Thanks, Bishop,” said Dr. Robert Fangio, an Amaus volunteer dentist who is also a deacon at Holy Family Church in Syracuse.

“You’re welcome,” the beaming bishop said. “Now we’ve managed to take all the pain away.”

Asked if he wanted to sit in one of the three dental chairs, Bishop Cunningham joked, “Are you giving candy?”

Actually, no, but someone said they did have cookies.

The bishop laughed and summed up: “It’s a great day.”

Amaus Administrative Director Kathleen M. Komar said she was feeling exhilaration, relief, and gratitude. She is grateful that Amaus, which has operated with a 100 percent volunteer staff since August 2014, has expanded from one dental room to three, with sophisticated new or gently used equipment.

The one-room operation ended Feb. 8. That was an exciting moment for dental assistant Olga Kondrya. Recalling the final patient, she said, “We gave him a little handshake: ‘You are the last patient in that room!’” The first patient in the new Suite 202, at 259 E Onondaga St., was seen Feb. 15. The service is by appointment only; call 315-802-6741.

According to Amaus, the renovation project was divided into two phases. Phase I, totaling $187,000, involved three treatment rooms, a sterilization center, the panoramic X-ray machine (donated by a Utica dentist), an administrative area, and a waiting room. Phase II involved the technology necessary to support the practice. That phase cost $30,000 and included practice-management software, computers, and training.

“We have received cash and equipment donations from local dentists and other individuals,” the Amaus fact sheet says. “These donations total over $144,000 plus $70,000 in used equipment.”

Amaus Dental Services is an outreach of the Cathedral. Msgr. Neal Quartier, rector of the Cathedral, attended the open house along with Dr. Lynn-Beth Satterly. Ten years ago, they started Amaus Medical Services at Cathedral, a walk-in interim primary care facility for persons who have no insurance and limited access to health care. Amaus Dental Services is an arm of that operation. 

Msgr. Quartier said dental care is “extremely important because there are few places where people can get any kind of free dental care.”

Dr. Satterly, the founding medical director of Amaus Medical Services and a faculty member at Le Moyne College, said, “There are even middle-class folks who can afford medical care but not dental. … The important thing is to realize that dental care is not just cosmetic.”

Dr. Fangio, who wore a little white cross on his right lapel, selected Matthew 25:34-40 as the Gospel reading for the occasion. It says: “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

Dr. Fangio was in a counting mode at the open house. He said 16 dentists or dental hygienists had dropped by to tour Suite 202 in just the first 2½ hours. Amaus hopes that more dental professionals and lay volunteers will see the suite’s amenities and volunteer.

Asked about his recruiting sales pitch, Dr. Fangio said, “I tell them that the people here are so appreciative and grateful for what we do; that that itself has been a reward. It truly has, to see the looks on their faces when they know that this is something we’re just doing because we care for them, and that no money is expected here; we just do it because we know they need it, and they’re so grateful for that.”

Amaus doesn’t ring a bell or put the dental chair overhead lights on flicker when they get an inquiry from a potential volunteer, but it heartens the staff.

“It’s rare in today’s society to be able to say, We will see you at no cost, and we will help you in any way that we can,” Dr. Fangio said. 

One of the dentists at the open house was Dr. Fangio’s nephew, Dr. Andrew Goss, a Liverpool dentist. He has already treated some patients that Amaus has sent his way.

Asked why he volunteered, Dr. Goss said, “Well, I love my uncle. But I also think there’s a tremendous need in our community, and if every dentist in town took on a patient or two once in a while, I think we’d really help a lot of people. So that’s why I’m more than happy to do it. It’s never felt like a burden, it’s always something I can kind of work into my free time, and the clinic here has never asked more than I’m able to give. So, it’s been very easy.”

Dental Director Dr. David R. Dasher said Amaus has operated with three dentists, three hygienists, and 23 lay volunteers such as clerical receptionists. He hopes to grow those numbers. Nine more dentists and five more hygienists attended the open house, which continued on Feb. 11, and expressed interest in volunteering at the clinic. “That is a great response!” Dr. Dasher said.

He knows his Latin. His high school motto was Ad majorem Dei gloriam. Dr. Dasher figures that the phrase — For the greater glory of God — embraces the idea of fewer toothaches in Syracuse and environs.

When patients come in, they will see a silver cross over the receptionist’s window. A nearby plaque donated by one of the major contributors, Henry Schein Dental, honors Dr. Dasher’s efforts.

Because he feels that Amaus is not about him, Dr. Dasher at first figured the plaque had to come down.

Reminded that it has now been blessed by the bishop, he said he will reconsider.