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Davis Journal

Volunteer dentist gives patients new lease on life

Jan 31, 2022 04:00PM ● By Becky Ginos

KAYSVILLE—Dr. Craige Olson has retired twice. The first time from his dental practice and more recently as a volunteer for Pantry Smiles, a free service for low income individuals to get the dental care they need. The program is a partnership between the Bountiful Community Food Pantry, Davis Technical College (DTC), Weber State University and Davis County dentists.

Olson and other dentists have been donating their time as part of the DTC dental assistance program. “Dr. Olson is a great teacher,” said Cathy Turnbow, Lead Dental Assistant Instructor at DTC. “He takes the time to explain things and has been very instrumental in the students’ understanding of dental procedures.”

He’s a natural at it, she said. “We’re really going to miss him, he's done a lot of free dental work. He’s going to be hard to replace.”

Pantry Smiles started in 2012 and Olson came onboard in 2014. “He’s an extremely effective teacher,” said Lorna Koci, program director. “He’s got a great sense of humor and always helps students learn and makes the patient feel comfortable. He explains things nicely and it helps that he is bilingual so he can help with our Spanish speaking patients.”

Before he retired Olson worked at a dental clinic at the University of Utah. “It gave me the opportunity to participate in dental programs across the state,” he said. “I volunteered at Donated Dental in Salt Lake for a long time.”

The Pantry Smiles program not only helps low income patients but gives students training to be dental assistants to get the hands on experience they need. “This gives them an idea of what it’s like working out in the field,” said Turnbow. “They’re working in the beautiful Allied Health building with top of the line equipment. We started out with four dental chairs and now we have 10.”

“Usually the assistant knows what you need before you even ask for it,” said Olson. “Here they have little to no experience but they’re eager to learn. The advantage is as I explain what is going on the patient hears it too instead of lecturing them. It helps the patient and the assistant.”

Olson said it’s a mindset change. “The assistant is slower. Sometimes when I ask for something I get a blank look – they have no idea. Instead of it being a tense moment I start to joke. I realize they're tense because they’re trying to get it right.”

Since the fall of 2012 through last June Pantry Smiles has provided more than $956,000 worth of dental services, said Koci. “We’ve helped 710 individuals in Davis County. Patients are so appreciative and thankful for the service we provide.”

Some of these people are just hanging on by their fingernails, Olson said. “They have so many challenges that they don’t come see a dentist until something is hurting and they’re in big trouble. It’s a challenge for them to not lose hope because of their appearance. By helping them with their teeth there’s hope for a good outcome.”