Dr. Bobby J. Grossi remembers the patient who’d gone so long without seeing a dentist that an oral infection threatened his life.
Then there was the man who received an implant that improved his smile and boosted his self-esteem.
Meanwhile, Grossi still gets office visits from the fellow whose personal life improved after Grossi’s team offered a gift of service he couldn’t afford at the time. Today the man works for General Motors and is a regular, paying patient.
Every story from seven years of providing free dental care at a special, annual event leaves Grossi inspired to keep offering gifts in the city he credits with giving its support to him. Grossi Dental and Wellness, located at 5321 Gateway Center in Flint, will host its eighth “Free Dental Day” from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1.
“It’s just been really cool to see people transform from having no confidence to having confidence,” Grossi says.
Averaging about 150 patients who attend the event each year, Grossi and his team have served more than 1,000 residents of the Flint area since he began practicing under the name Gateway Dental about 10 years ago. When Grossi first decided to launch “Free Dental Day” he struggled to get the media’s support in spreading the word. As the hours dwindled toward the Saturday after Thanksgiving he was finally asked to do an interview with a local TV station. When he arrived at the office the morning of the event he found a line of patients who’d been waiting since 4 a.m.
“I make a rule with every one of my patients that you gotta pass it forward,” Grossi says.
In exchange for receiving a free filling, extraction or teeth-cleaning at “Free Dental Day,” he asks recipients to buy someone a cup of coffee or promise to demonstrate some other act of kindness.
While today there are similar dental efforts aligned with support from a dental non-profit agency, Grossi says he feels “it’s a great thing for me to stand alone with my team.” He estimates that his practice has donated a half-million dollars in services since the event began.
Grossi knows well what it’s like to be unable to afford a dentist’s visit. Raised by a single mother who supported their household on a meager income, he spent his early adult years without medical insurance.
“I got lucky and I was blessed not to be sick,” says Grossi, “but, at the end of the day, I know what it’s like to not have anyone reaching out to me” to offer help.
“I truly believe in life that you cannot just keep taking from people,” he says. “It’s the law of reciprocation. We’re supposed to give. The bible tells us to give. But people don’t always have money. Sometimes it’s time.”
The time and professional service Grossi offers at “Free Dental Day” includes his staff’s effort, plus about 30 volunteers.
“By the time we get done it’s usually a 12 to 13-hour day,” Grossi says.
In typical Grossi style, the wait by patients tends to be anything but dull. Free pizza, hot dogs and beverages help ensure that the dental staff has teeth in need of cleaning and bands have provided entertainment. This year Grossi says he’ll give some patients copies of Changing the Face of Dentistry and Destiny is Not Hereditary, two books he recently published. Destiny is Not Hereditary is inspired by Grossi’s personal challenges, including struggling with an eighth-grade reading level as a high school senior who he says no one expected to succeed.
Apart from his passion for generosity and inspiring others, Grossi documents a need for events like “Free Dental Day” in lower-income cities like Flint. In Changing the Face of Dentistry he cites an American Dental Association Health Policy Institute report revealing that, among low-income adults surveyed:
- 29 percent feared that their dental condition affected their prospects for employment
- 42 percent suffered difficulty in biting or chewing
- 74 percent expected to lose teeth as their ages advanced, compared with only 48 percent of affluent adults
Returning patients and other members of the community who’ve come to expect “Free Dental Day” form a market Grossi says he enjoys serving. In fact, he draws a parallel between the amount of charitable work Grossi Dental and Wellness provides each year and the growth of the practice’s profitable side: More business growth should equate with greater amounts of charity, he tells his staff.
This year he scheduled the event to take place the week after Thanksgiving, as opposed to the end of Thanksgiving week. Grossi says he wanted his staff – which is not required to participate in “Free Dental Day,” but usually does – to enjoy more family time before the big event.
“I think if we’re all honest, getting closer to the event, we’re stressed,” he says. “Like right now, I’m dog-tired. I don’t have much energy, but once you get here, it really takes on a life of its own.
“When you know your purpose, and you know you’re being blessed – I know this sounds cliché – but you really don’t struggle for energy.”
“It’s my favorite day of the year,” Grossi says, “and it always will be.”