One Saturday night, Dr. Lawrence Bailey experienced an excruciating toothache. Despite the pain medications he took, he was miserable. He spent a sleepless night and wished he could see a dentist. The trouble was he was the only dentist around.
"Unless you have an accident, emergency rooms are not equipped to treat dental problems. They can help with pain control, but that's about it. Fortunately, I was able to see one of my colleagues the next day. The experience helped me to better understand what my own patients go through,” said Dr. Bailey.
As the Chief of Dental Services for the Renaissance Health Care Network (RHCN), Dr. Bailey works at two clinics as well as in a mobile dental unit. His team of four full-time and two part-time dentists includes a pediatric dentist as well as an orthodontist. Together, they handle more than 10,000 patient visits a year from residents of Central and West Harlem and Northern Manhattan.
Dr. Bailey likes to point out that oral health is more than having an attractive smile. "Poor oral health and untreated oral diseases can have a significant impact on quality of life. Poor dental health is linked to periodontal (gum) disease and stroke, heart disease, and pre-term low-birth-weight babies," he said.
Access to dental care remains problematic for minorities, the elderly and low-income children. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, oral health in the United States has improved over the last decades, but the gap in the use of services between low-income people and higher income people has increased.
The dental clinics at Renaissance offer restorative and preventive dentistry to all who need treatment. Dr. Bailey noted that before being treated, many patients said they had difficulty eating or were ashamed to smile. But, he admits getting people to come to the dentist is not easy.
"I've never heard someone say, 'I can't wait to see the dentist,'" Dr. Bailey says. "Over the years, our profession has made amazing strides in ensuring almost completely pain-free work. But, people will suffer excruciating pain before going to the dentist."
In March, Dr. Bailey, who has worked at HHC for 27 years, received a Patient Safety Champion Award from HHC. As Chairman of the Renaissance Safety and Infection Control Committees, he coordinated two handwashing campaigns, presented a Disaster Management course to the staff and instituted safety protocols that ensure that staff always checked they were operating on the right patient and the right tooth. As an active member of the Dental Materials and Equipment Safety Standards Review Committee of the American Dental Association, Dr. Bailey helped author national safety standards used in HHC dental centers and throughout the country.
Dr. Bailey attended the University of Nebraska on a football scholarship and after graduation went to Howard University Dental School. He also has a Master's in Public Health from Columbia University.
He and his wife Stephanie live in Manhattan and serve on the board of Marble Collegiate Church. They enjoy recreational boating, road and mountain biking, golf, skiing and travel.