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Local Dentist Volunteers On South Dakota's Rosebud Reservation



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Giovanni Cono, DDS, owner of Brookview Dental in Newtown, stumbled upon an advertisement while reading the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) that took him on a trip across the country to help those in need.

The advertisement was seeking assistance from dental professionals for the St Francis Mission. The organization is a nonprofit ministry of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) that serves among 20,000 Lakota (Sioux) people on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in south-central South Dakota.

“The mission offers schools, social services, a dental clinic, and there is even a museum portraying the Lakota history,” Dr Cono said.

When Dr Cono called the number provided in the advertisement, he spoke to Marty Jones, RDH.

“She explained to me what was needed, which was pretty much everything,” Dr Cono recalled.

He booked his flight to help and was joined by Frank Dalena, DMD, from Stratford, Conn.

On October 13, the two departed from Newark Liberty International Airport in New York and landed in Rapid City, S.D.

“It was much colder than in New York, where we left from, and there was snow on ground. We drove two-and-a-half hours from Rapid City to the Mission,” Dr Cono said. “We both were surprised of the absence of restaurants, stores, or even gas stations along the way.”

On their drive, they encountered only one truck, and upon arriving at their destination, they were greeted at their guest house by a dental assistant student from Nebraska.

The following day, they met Ms Jones.

“She is an extraordinary, energetic person who [runs] the clinic by herself. She [schedules] patients, assists dentists, and performs sterilization. She does it all,” Dr Cono said.

After seeing the dental facility, Dr Cono participated in performing a variety of dental procedures for the Lakota people.

Over the course of six days at the reservation, Dr Cono saw about ten patients a day and performed root canals, restorations, and extractions.

“During our time working at the clinic, we saw people coming from four hours away to receive dental treatment, kids with rampant decay, and people in their 30s with only a few teeth remaining in their mouth,” he said.

While some patients were covered by insurance, many were not, which Dr Cono said comes as a result of the high unemployment rate in the reservation.

The St Francis Mission offers its dental clinic services for free, but due to the fact that it operates solely on people donating their time and supplies, it is only open when there are volunteers.

“After October, the next time the Lakota people will have access to dental care will be in March,” Dr Cono said. “It is almost unthinkable for us, who [live] in urbanized areas of the country, to have to wait with a toothache five months before being able to see a dentist.”

During Dr Cono and Dr Dalena’s stay in South Dakota, the Lakota people expressed how thankful they were for their services by inviting them to one of their “sweats.”

“A sweat is a gathering in a shallow hut, where hot stones are placed in the center. People [sit] in a circle, meditate, and share thoughts. The event is meant to eliminate, through sweat, our body toxins as well as clearing our minds,” Dr Cono explained.

He is happy to have been able to help those in need of dental care and expressed great gratitude to Ms Jones for helping make it all happened.

“Marty went above and beyond to accommodate us, and we had a wonderful and rewarding experience,” he said.

Looking back on his experience, Dr Cono added, “Like any humanitarian mission, it [makes] you feel good about helping people and, most of all, it [gives] you better appreciation for what you have.”

Those interested in learning more about the St Francis Mission can visit sfmission.org. For more information about Brookview Dental, call 203-426-5260.

Pictured from left is registered dental hygienist Marty Jones of the St Francis Mission in South Dakota, dentist Dr Frank Dalena of Stratford, and dentist Dr Giovanni Cono, who owns Brookview Dental in Newtown. The Connecticut dentists traveled to help the native Lakota (Sioux) people with dental care on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in October. —photo courtesy Giovanni Cono
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