Through Thick and Thin

In excruciating pain or for regular checkups, Alessandra Esteves has chosen Rutgers School of Dental Medicine (RSDM) for her care since 2002.

Alessandra Esteves

“I don't go anywhere else,” said Esteves, who is originally from Brazil but has been a long-time Newarker. “I don't trust nobody else with my mouth.”

In the past two decades, Esteves has received care through RSDM’s Ryan White Program, which provides comprehensive dental care to persons living with HIV. Esteves contracted the disease when her former boyfriend sexually assaulted her after hearing her decision to leave him. That day, he also severely beat her up and broke one of her teeth inside the gum. That tooth later got infected. Her dentist at the time told her to see a specialist and recommended RSDM for its expertise as well as its Ryan White Program.

“[Everyone at the school] were very careful with me. You guys treated me like a baby, always compassionate with me,” she said.

After taking care of the infection, she continued to turn to RSDM for her oral health care. Like that time when she was bit on her lower lip by a client’s dog while pet-sitting. Or when her bridge suddenly broke over the weekend. She also had crowns and fillings and now comes in every six months for her regular checkups. “My mom always made sure that we get the cleaning every year, so I got into the habit of going to the dentist for prevention,” she said. “I always try to stay on top of it.”

With each visit, she met a growing number of RSDM staff as well as faculty and student doctors. She bonded with Veronica Andrade, supervisor of patient services, over their love for dogs. Esteves still fondly remembers Juliana Gomes, a student in the internationally educated DMD program who became faculty. “She took care of me for many years. She would touch my mouth and I wouldn't even know it,” she said. “All the students have been great. Even the teacher there already knows me for many years and tells the students, ‘Take care of her.’ They are really nice to me. I love it.”