Having a positive impact on the lives of others is what Dr. Luciana Sweis strives to do. A world traveler with a gracious heart for people, she is a dentist who enjoys giving back to others in Chicago and overseas, while at the same time creating opportunities in which other dentists can get involved.
A few years ago, Dr. Sweis utilized her passion for dentistry and helping others by founding the Superior Institute of Dental Education and Assistance (Superior IDEA). Superior IDEA is a nonprofit, state-accredited program aimed at providing affordable, high-quality dental assistant training for economically disadvantaged members of Chicago’s minority communities. Today, Superior IDEA continues to thrive under the new leadership of Ms. Lucia Carroll.
The dynamic Dr. Sweis sold her private practice in 2003 to focus on a few other important elements of her busy, but balanced, life. She works as a dental consultant and is serving her fourth year as a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Oral Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences at the University of Illinois College of Dentistry in Chicago.
She is now devoting time to international dental projects and enjoying her first year of marriage to Khaldoun, her fondest supporter.
Dr. Sweis was born in Romania and came to the United States when she was 12. An American citizen and Chicago resident, she speaks fluent English and Romanian and basic conversational French and Spanish, an ability that has enabled her to easily communicate with people from all over the globe. Falling right in line with her love of travel and commitment to oral health, her personal convictions about touching the lives of others are a motivating force behind her charitable efforts.
“I was introduced to overseas dental missions by my sister, who travels to Eastern Europe every three months with a medical and dental team,” said Dr. Sweis. “The team provides treatment to the disadvantaged people residing in remote orphanages and adult care facilities for the mentally and physically handicapped, who have never received quality health care.
“When in preparation, I had no idea what to expect, or bring, on this type of venture,” she said. “My sister simply told me to bring everything because they had nothing. So, I had to basically pack and take a mini-dental office, complete with instruments and the gear I would need to treat as many people as possible.”
Actively pursuing missionary dentistry was a natural choice for her, but it was not an easy task to undertake. In fact, prior to her first trip to Moldova (a developing ex-Soviet Republic located in Eastern Europe), she was unsettled about what to expect from the adventure.
After her initial trip, a fire of urgency burned within her to return as many times as she could afford to. On her next trip to Moldova, Dr. Sweis encouraged a friend/oral surgeon to come and help with the more difficult extractions so that the team could treat twice as many patients as on the previous trip.
“In my practice, we focused primarily on achieving cosmetic restorative results and collaborated with the Lincoln Park Dental Specialists for the complex cases,” she said. “Overseas, we do not have this option - so specialists, like my friend who volunteered, definitely help.”
Seeing the faces of the people there, learning of their needs, and determining how she could help has added to her views on the purpose of her life and skills.
“My plan for the future is to try to establish ongoing dental care operations overseas in the many orphanages and adult care institutions that are located in remote areas,” said Dr. Sweis. “We are currently limited to only being able to offer dental care a few times a year - and it’s just simply not enough. That being said, I am hoping to establish a fully equipped facility that has all the materials and supplies necessary for providing routine dental care.”
Right now, dentists who travel to Moldova perform mainly emergency treatments. Dr. Sweis believes that setting up a dental facility in the area and hiring a local, salaried dentist would have a tremendously far-reaching positive impact in those communities. The average monthly income for a dentist in Moldova is approximately $150. This translates to an annual salary of $1,800 - comparable to what a U.S. dentist would have to pay in travel expenses to Moldova for one trip as a volunteer.
In an effort to make this happen, Dr. Sweis is working closely with organizations that are actively involved in that part of the world to make these dreams a reality. She has some challenges to face in the months ahead, especially the task of raising enough funds to purchase the necessary new equipment (and possibly mobile units) to be used in a future clinic there.
One thing is certain about Dr. Sweis - her dreams are unlimited. She is grateful for all dentists who give back in their communities and abroad. This time, her goals for changing the oral health needs of the communities she has personally visited have grown into a larger, but longer-lasting, cause.
The goals of the charismatic Dr. Sweis are many, because she is devoted to the cause. But the overall success of her new mission will rely heavily on financial support. She encourages all dentists to get involved with their local and international charities, because the reward is immeasurable.
“As dentists, we are in a unique position to offer a specific aid to those in need in this country and abroad,” said Dr. Sweis. “It is making the commitment for reasons other than to ‘feel good,’ because there is so much more to be gained from trips to locations far out of your comfort zone. It is amazing the level of internal growth and maturity you gain from donating your time, money, and talent.”
Dr. Sweis believes that if you are actively seeking ways to help others merely for the good of others and supporting charitable efforts, it will result in you positively and directly affecting the people in your life and your practice, regardless of whether you’ve been appreciated for those actions or not.
“It seems natural to me to give back to those in need since I am in a position to do so. I don’t pursue these efforts to get people to think of me in a certain way, because charity isn’t about you or me singularly … it is about the need you are capable of fulfilling that will enrich the life of someone else,” said Dr. Sweis. “There are so many dentists out there performing good works that we just don’t have the opportunity to hear about in publications such as these. It’s truly about having the motivation to help without expecting anything in return. That is where the true beauty lies.”
Although she would prefer not to have the spotlight focus on her, Dr. Sweis is truly a great example of the difference one dentist can make.
“I wholeheartedly believe that each of us have been given so many gifts and talents that can help others,” said Dr. Sweis. “What good are these gifts if we don’t share them? I’m grateful to God for the gifts He has given me. I want to be known as someone who was grateful for her gifts and used them to help others.
“For many of us living in an affluent society, it is easy to become obsessed with the person we see in the mirror and our own personal accomplishments. But this type of mentality may lead toward what Jean-Paul Sartre described as ‘meaninglessness.’ I believe that the impact we make in the lives of others can serve as a reminder of the significance of a cause greater than one’s self, a cause that will have an effect now and into eternity.”
Ms. Fleetwood is public relations manager for 1-800-DENTIST® and serves on the development committee for The Children’s Dental Center. You may contact Ms. Fleetwood by email at [email protected].
For more information or details on how to make a tax-deductible donation to the overseas dental project, please email Dr. Sweisat [email protected].