Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity provides pro bono dental care to needy Holocaust survivors who lack dental benefits or whose benefits don’t cover all the work they need.
In the first year of its three-year program, an international fraternity of Jewish dentists has provided $500,000 of free dental care to nearly 500 Holocaust survivors.
Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity has joined with Henry Schein, Inc., an international distributor of health care products and services, to provide pro bono dental care to needy Holocaust survivors who lack dental benefits or whose benefits don’t cover all the work they need.
“We do everything” except cosmetic dentistry, said Dr. Allen Finkelstein of New York, vice chair of the fraternity’s board of directors. The procedures enable aging patients to improve their dental and overall health, and to chew their food, he added.
While Finkelstein said it’s difficult to blame all of the Holocaust survivors’ dental problems on the poverty and lack of nutrition they endured during World War II, “logically speaking, they would be more prone to dental diseases.” He said that as people age, their dental problems tend to worsen.
Alpha Omega was founded in 1907 at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry by a group of dental students who wanted to fight discrimination against Jews who were trying to get into dental school and set up practices around the country, said Dr. Marc Rothman, the Philadelphia-based chairman of the United States Foundation of the Alpha Omega Fraternity.
“It was very difficult for a Jew to break out” in those days, said Rothman.
Since then, the fraternity, which held its convention in Washington last week, has built two dental schools in Israel — one in Jerusalem, the other in Tel Aviv.
The fraternity, which has 5,500 members throughout the world, is planning a trip to Poland in May. Participants will visit concentration camps and the Warsaw Ghetto, “basically to follow in the footsteps” of the survivors they now treat, said Rothman.
Survivors are referred to the program by the many Jewish agencies that provide them with other services.
After learning of the program, Vice President Joe Biden sought to expand it nationwide. Aviva Sufian was appointed in January 2014 as the first special envoy for Holocaust survivor services, and her role includes collaborating with nonprofits and the private sector to create ways to help survivors.
Alpha Omega-Henry Schein Cares Oral Health Program grew out of those discussions. A three-year pilot program to provide free dental care began last January. Already active in Washington, D.C., the program recently expanded to Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area and Seattle, plus Montreal and Toronto, Canada.
This year, it will also offer dental care to survivors here at the Temple University School of Dentistry, as well as at the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health in Mesa.
About 600 dentists are expected to donate their time and services during 2016, Finklestein said.
“It involves one generation to another,” he said, calling it the highest form of tzedakah because it is done without recognition.
“Some of the finest dentists in this country” are involved, he said. “They do not hesitate” when asked if they could assist a survivor in their area, he added. Some dentists help one patient, others as many as six, during the year; many of the procedures require several visits. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful feeling, and our dentists are proud.”
Suzanne Pollak writes for the Washington Jewish Week.