Nothing makes Prairie Village resident Deana Bender smile more than helping someone improve their own smile.
After more than 30 years as a dentist, Bender’s had plenty of experience helping patients with their oral health. It’s her work with underprivileged patients, however, that has really helped energize her.
And it’s Bender’s impressive volunteer resume that has gained her the attention of the nonprofit group Oral Health Kansas. The organization honored her with its Outstanding Dentist award at their annual conference last weekend in Wichita.
“Dr. Bender’s commitment to oral health care is far-reaching, encompassing state and national issues,” said Tanya Dorf Brunner, executive director of Oral Health Kansas Inc. “However, the focus of her action has been local where she has been able to make a tremendous impact. Hundreds of patients have gained improved oral health due to Deana’s work.”
Six years ago, Bender helped establish a safety-net dental clinic at the Southwest Boulevard Family Health Clinic, where she volunteers her time to provide dental care to the uninsured. She’s also given her time to help keep the denture lab open at the Topeka Correctional Facility.
There, inmates create the dentures that are used to treat patients at the Southwest Boulevard clinic. Inmates learn a skill to help them succeed once released, and clinic patients get much-needed dentures at an affordable price.
“Dr. Bender is a caring and compassionate dental provider with a serious commitment to providing for the underserved,” said dentist Susan Ellis, Bender’s co-worker at Southwest Boulevard Family Health Clinic.
While Bender is appreciative of the award and her colleagues’ kind words, Bender is just happy to be able to help people correct dental problems that they normally wouldn’t be able to afford to fix.
“I’m just in my own little spot in the world and doing what I can to help people,” Bender said. “It’s such a blessing for me to help others and they are so appreciative. I’ve gotten lots of hugs and notes from people that I’ve helped. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to give someone a smile after they’ve gone 20 years without smiling because of the condition of their teeth. They leave my office with a huge smile.”
Her clinic patients often leave with something even bigger.
“Having a nice smile gives people confidence,” Bender said. “It may help them to find a job, find love, so many wonderful things. People can suffer a lot of embarrassment when their teeth are in bad shape.”
Winning the award was a nice diversion from a year filled with personal challenge. Bender is currently battling breast cancer. She found out about the Oral Health Kansas award on the day she received her last round of chemotherapy.
“It was a complete surprise,” Bender said. “My friend called to tell me as I was getting ready for my last treatment and it was such great timing. I am just overwhelmed and grateful for it.”
Bender put off her radiation treatment for a week so that she could travel to Wichita to accept the award. While the award is certainly an honor for her, Bender knows that she has already been given so much by giving to others.
“My volunteer work has been very special to my heart,” said Bender. “When you help others, the blessings really do come back to you a hundred times.”