IN THE NEWS: Sun Sentinel Highlights “Dentists Assisting Survivors of the Holocaust” Program

Lois K. Solomon

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Oct 17, 2014

As they age, their teeth can end up at the bottom of their health care to-do list.

But some Palm Beach County Holocaust survivors who need urgent dental interventions are getting essential fixes, thanks to 10 dentists and specialists who have volunteered to treat them at no charge.

In a new program coordinated by the Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services in west Boca, survivors who are agency clients are linked with dentists who agree to do free cleanings, root canals, bridge work and other needed treatments.

The program, called Dentists Assisting Survivors of the Holocaust, began in May and has already treated five patients. The family services hopes to enlist 20 dentists, prosthodontists, endodontists and oral surgeons for the program, so all the 300 survivors helped by the agency can get treatment if needed.

Many survivors, who are mostly in their 80s and 90s, suffered from severe malnutrition and other maladies in World War II concentration camps that affected not only their teeth but caused other long-term physical issues, said Danielle Hartman, family services president.

"Because of conditions in the camps, we see poor health more often in survivors than in other senior populations," Hartman said.

Hartman said the family services decided to start the program after hearing about similar successful programs in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Broward's program, started last year, has treated 48 clients, with 26 dentists and specialists offering free care, said Patti Sinkoe, a case manager at Goodman Jewish Family Service of Broward.

Riva Karp, a survivor who lives in Century Village west of Boca Raton, said she was unsure what to do when her dentures broke and she couldn't afford to visit a dentist. She told her Rales case manager, who linked her with a participating dentist, Dr. Steven Feit.

"I like to play cards, and I didn't want to go out without my dentures," said Karp, 83, who was born in Poland. "The family service does so much for the survivors here in Century Village. They even made plans for me for Thanksgiving."

Volunteer Dr. Fred Kohler, a retired prosthodontist in Boca Raton, said many senior citizens neglect their teeth when insurance fails to cover treatment.

"Holocaust or not, older people can't afford the fees," Kohler said. "If there's no pain, people ignore their mouths."

Dr. Ronald Rubin, an oral surgeon in Boca Raton who has treated four patients in the program, said he asks few questions about the survivors' complicated personal histories.

"But inwardly, I do treat them differently, because I think about what they've been through," he said. "It's my very small part in helping people who had no help from anyone."

Dr. Eric Epstein, a dentist in Delray Beach, said he has cared for one patient so far and immediately felt a deep connection because his grandmother's cousins had experienced the concentration camps of Europe.

"It's a population that we're losing," Epstein said. "I ask their history, but mostly I just try and listen."

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