With stuffed animals and balloons in hand, Suzette Steele’s three kids sat bravely for their dental exams — a fearlessness learned from their mom, who found a safe refuge last year with FUSION in Federal Way after fleeing a domestic violence situation.
Two Federal Way dentists recently teamed up to offer an on-site dental clinic to families at the Pete Andersen FUSION Family Center on March 18, providing check-ups and dental hygiene education to parents and kids experiencing homelessness.
Dr. Loveleen Brar, BDS, recently took over Dr. Kenneth Brossel’s dental practice in Federal Way, which served the community for over 40 years. Looking to get more involved in the community, she is using her specialized skill set to help those in need.
“I see that a lot even in patients who are not under the poverty line or are not homeless. They take care of their kids and put aside their own needs,” she said, which can lead to far more extreme oral and health issues in the future.
Hailing from Canada, Brar completed her dental training abroad and moved to Washington to be closer to her family when opening a practice. While attending dental school, she had several volunteer opportunities to help provide dental services to villages and communities without access to care.
Her dedication to help others stems from her Sikh religion, she said.
“One of our main teachings is something called Seva, the practice of charity,” Brar said. “It’s supposed to be well ingrained in all Sikhs and in me, it took a stronghold.”
While looking for a place to live in Federal Way, Brar stayed with her friend Dr. Sukhi Jassar of Happy Kids Dentistry during weekdays, traveling back to Vancouver on the weekends.
Planning the FUSION event for families provided an opportunity for both dentists.
“I thought I might as well bring in a specialist to see the kids because pediatric dentistry is a specialty and I had access to a great pediatric dentist,” Brar said.
Jassar bought her practice in late 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to introduce herself to Federal Way. The FUSION event works as a bridge between community members and available resources they may not know about, she said.
“A lot of people have options available that they don’t know exist,” Jassar said. “It’s just finding that little bridge.”
Dr. Brar was the bridge connecting Happy Kids Dentistry to FUSION, she said. Now, FUSION Executive Director David Harrison will be the liaison between dental care resources and families.
“I think it’s a good transition because a lot of people are afraid of the dentist as well,” Brar said. “This is a good introduction … it’s better for them to be introduced now than when they’re older and in pain.”
Last Friday, Brar and Jassar completed preliminary exams, showed parents and their kids how to properly brush and floss, filled out treatment plans for each person to take to the next provider they see, and set up future appointments.
“The hope is that this starts them on the road to taking care of their oral health because that’s going to help them in so many ways, for their overall health,” Brar said.
For FUSION families in Federal Way, wellness goes far beyond just having a roof over their heads.
“The name on the side of the building says ‘family center,’ and that’s where we’re really trying to go,” said FUSION Executive Director David Harrison. “Where we provide you shelter, but also we provide a holistic, wrap-around approach in making sure your family is healthy and self-sufficient.”
The nonprofit operates a short-term emergency shelter in Federal Way and over 20 transitional housing units in the area. FUSION plans to partner with other local nonprofits and service providers in the area to host frequent dental clinics for homeless adults, veterans, and other communities in need.
For 30-year-old Suzette Steele, much of her focus has been on rebuilding her family’s stability after getting her young kids back from her abuser. Between tending to her three kids, caring for her own mental health, dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, and finding employment, there was little time or energy left over to navigate dental care.
“This actually came just in time,” she said. “It means a lot because we have been behind with everything, so having the opportunity to be able to get to stuff, or have brought stuff here to where we can access it without having to walk or take the bus there, that helps tremendously.”
Despite having a fear of the dentist herself, there is also a challenge of many dentists not accepting new patients during the pandemic, she said. The March 18 partnership provided hope in the form of an afternoon appointment.
“I’ve been neglecting to take care of myself and now that I have the opportunity,” she said “I’m like, ‘Yes, I need this.’”