It all started with severe side effects to prednisone. Joe Ferrari was on high doses of it for a viral illness in 2017.
“But then I started to have hip pain, and ended up having a hip replacement a year later because of what the steroids had done to my bones,” Joe Ferrari, 68, said. Unfortunately, his hips weren’t the only thing affected.
In 2019, Joe, who prides himself with his excellent oral hygiene habits, went for his routine dental appointment. “Joe, what the heck happened?!” he remembers the dentist asking. “She said they would have to extract all my teeth, due to their condition, a result of the prednisone and other medications causing dry mouth and decay. I just left the office. There was no way that was happening.”
Fast forward to an afternoon in October of 2020, when Joe was enjoying a popsicle.
“As I was eating, four of my bottom teeth broke off,” Joe said, recalling his shock.
At this point, the pandemic was in full force. Joe closed his catering business, Ferrari’s Cucina. Depression hit hard. His wife Karen wasn’t working at the time and they didn’t have dental insurance. A year and half passed and Joe’s oral health declined rapidly, while his depression deepened.
Around the same time, Karen was having dental issues and called Eastman Dental. After her positive experience there, she asked if they could possibly see her husband.
“We were happy we were able to help Karen and Joe obtain Medicaid insurance and begin treatment,” said Colleen Blieden, Front Office administrator for Eastman’s General Dentistry Department.
“I first met Mr. Ferrari in early 2022. He had a breakdown of multiple teeth, due to the prednisone and other medications,” explained Dr. Radhika Thakkar (GenDen ’23). “The appearance of his teeth and his limited functionality had a significant impact, both socially and psychologically. It was obvious how the situation had negatively affected his self-esteem and quality of life.”
An Advanced Education in General Dentistry resident at the time, Dr. Thakkar and her faculty mentor, Dr. Luis Cianca developed a treatment plan.
“We explained to Joe that we needed to extract eight teeth, and that we would do everything we could to save other teeth with root canal treatment, fillings and crowns,” Dr. Thakkar recalled. “We also told him that it would take a big commitment from him, including many appointments and follow up care at home.”
“In my experience, doctors will just tell you what you need and just start billing, and because you don’t know any different, you do it,” Joe said. “But at Eastman, they give you a plan with options. They involve you in the decision process. They tell you what we need to do now and what we need to do for the long haul. I’m not used to that. It was so appreciated.”
Throughout his treatment, there were delays caused by infections and high blood pressure. Sometimes he had to wait several weeks in between appointments because of how busy the clinic was.
Ultimately, Dr. Thakkar saved 20 of Joe’s teeth and replaced eight teeth with a partial denture. Dental Assistant Dejon Williams worked closely with Dr. Thakkar on most of Joe’s procedures. The full treatment took about a year and a half.
“Dr. Thakkar is kind, thoughtful and just plain phenomenal,” Joe said. “The treatment she gave me was very well thought out and planned. She is very professional, thorough, compassionate and responsive. I’m very, very thankful and grateful I found her. Dejon was also wonderful. He came to check on me or just stop to say hello all the time.”
“Watching Joe’s progress and seeing his whole demeanor change for the better after everything he went through was such a relief and really wonderful,” said Karen, also now a permanent patient. “To be treated with kindness and respect and dignity is refreshingly rare and that’s what we get at Eastman.”
As Joe’s treatment was wrapping up, Dr. Thakkar was preparing to graduate from the program.
Joe and Karen went to the ceremony to support her.
“Having my patient attend my graduation meant the world to me,” Dr. Thakkar said. “I was filled with both pride and gratitude, a true testament to the meaningful connections that can be forged in the world of dentistry. As I walked across the stage to receive my certificate, I glanced in their direction, seeing their proud smile and genuine happiness for my achievement. It was incredibly special.”
“I never realized the full extent of what Eastman is,” Joe said. “I thought they clean teeth, and teach people how to become dentists. I didn’t think it was as great as it is, I can’t believe what they’ve done with my mouth. Eastman Dental is one of the greatest resources in Rochester. It’s world class. I’m blown away by the talent and the large number of countries the dentists come from to train there.”
Joe recently attended his 50th high school reunion. “You know what? I looked freaking great!” he said, smiling broadly. “It feels so amazing to be able to talk to people, to smile, to eat normally again.”