Health

Navy veteran, former Douglas County sheriff’s deputy credits CU dental student for his renewed faith in dental medicine

Ronnie Chavez, to Navy veteran and former Douglas County sheriff’s deputy, has had dental problems his entire life. Even as a child, he was ridiculed for his teeth. “Kids can be ruthless,” he said. Not only that, but his childhood dentist was stern and unfriendly.

ronnie childhood

Living his life in pain, embarrassment and fear of the dentist just wasn’t working anymore. So, when a friend suggested the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine, Chavez was excited to discuss dentures with a new dental team. I have scheduled a screening appointment with the Dental Team Care Clinic and was matched with fourth-year dental student Byron Irish (DDS ’22) to manage his treatment plan.

A Perfect Student-Patient Pairing

What Chavez did not know is that Irish shared a similar story: He too grew up with dental problems.

A Colorado native and fourth-generation dentist, Irish grew up with partial anodontia, missing seven teeth. He was bullied too, and although he had some orthodontic work, it was n’t until he got a removable partial denture in high school that his confidence began to grow.

“It felt powerful to finally be proud of my smile,” said Irish. “The functional aspect of being able to eat things that I couldn’t eat before, like corn on the cob, and the confidence my removable partial denture gave me are what make it so personally rewarding to work with patients like Ronnie who are able to find their smile again through the fabrication of dentures.”

irish enjoys interacting with and caring for patients, and he’s interested in dental public health. He is especially grateful for his Advanced Clinical Training Service (ACTS) Program rotations at CU SDM, which gave him the opportunity to provide dental care to underserved communities. After graduation, he’ll begin his residency at Denver Health Medical Center.

Irish WCC cropIrish (DDS ’22) with his wife Courtney Irish, mother-in-law Sheri Giles, mom Cynthia Irish, and dad Scott Irish (DDS ’81) at his white coat ceremony in early 2020

The Dentures Journey

“When Ronnie first came to the clinic, he was friendly and fun to talk to – especially about our mutual appreciation of the Denver Broncos – but he was in a lot of pain,” Irish recalled. “Our first goal was to eliminate that pain for him and then try to regain function.”

Fortunately, Chavez had a positive mindset from the get-go – even when he found out he needed 18 teeth removed due to advanced gum (periodontal) disease. This was the first big step in Chavez’s “dentures journey,” as he calls it.

After some time to heal from the extractions, Chavez began a series of appointments to get his dentures:

  1. First, Irish took a series of impressions of Chavez’s mouth.

  2. Irish and Chavez then worked together to select denture teeth that would meet Chavez’s esthetic and functional needs.

  3. At the following appointment, Chavez was able to try on a wax denture to confirm he approved the esthetics and orientation of the teeth they selected.

  4. Finally, Chavez came in for a final fitting of the complete dentures and left with a full set of teeth.

Ronnie before crop Ronnie teeth crop ronnie after

Chavez said the best thing about CU Dental was that everyone was friendly and honest.

“In my humble opinion, a good bedside manner sets the tone for the entire experience,” shared Chavez. “I was at ease with every one of the students, supervising dentists and professors I encountered, especially Byron. He will be an awesome dentist.”

The full treatment plan took less than six months. As a fourth-year student, Irish created and executed the plan himself, with faculty supervision.

From Pain to Pride

“Prior to all this work being done, my self-esteem was awful,” said Chavez. “I never smiled. I hid my mouth when I spoke. I covered my face with my facemask everywhere, and not just because of Covid, but because of embarrassment.”

Today, Chavez smiles all the time. “I tell everyone about my dentures! I get daily compliments on my bright smile, my laugh, my candor – it’s all so awesome. I’m not afraid to be me.”

Ronnie and JustinaChavez with his wife, Justina: “She’s so proud of me for going through this journey.”

If you are interested in becoming a patient at the CU Dental Team Care Clinic, please call 303-724-2273 to schedule a screening appointment. Learn more at https://dental.cuanschutz.edu/patient-care/our-clinics/dental-team-care-clinic.

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