Northeast dentist focuses on preventative care

Abby Hoover
Managing Editor

Dr. J. Edward Kendrick, DDS, has been a mainstay of healthcare for Northeast Kansas City for decades.

Kendrick said the type of dentistry that occurs in his office at 4605 Independence Ave. is more basic and disease-oriented, which is something that fulfils his passion of furthering people’s lives.

Monday, Aug. 23, will mark the completion of 46 years serving patients on Independence Avenue. In 1975, Kendrick joined his father’s dental practice, which was founded in Historic Northeast Kansas City at Monroe and Independence Avenue in 1952.

As a dentist, he has always been focused on the overall health of the human body. In 1999, he submitted an idea for a stamp to the U.S. Postal Service to promote hand washing. Although the idea was rejected because the postal service doesn’t take submissions, Kendrick said the stamp’s design is more relevant than ever.

“I was disappointed, I thought every time somebody licked a stamp, looking at that would help to reinforce behaviors that improve public health a stamp at a time,” Kendrick said.

Dentists have long been experts in infection control, especially due to the AIDS crisis, which had a known case of transmission between a dentist and a patient, Kendrick said.

Since then, dentists have taken universal precautions in their offices, exam rooms and waiting areas. For Kendrick, this means using ultraviolet disinfection in the air condition duct work for the past 10 years and purging his clinic with ozone every two months since November 2019, in addition to regular surface disinfecting, using disposable barriers on exam chairs, sterilizing dental tools and putting up plexiglas barriers.

Kendrick said although the World Health Organization recommended postponing routine dental care because of the aerosols produced, he is concerned about the delay in care for some of his patients and would suggest they come in for regular appointments if they feel safe.

“Sometimes being safe doesn’t mean protecting your health, but delaying needed healthcare,” Kendrick said. “The perception of being safe can work against the preservation of health, as well.”

Kendrick believes dental health is integral to total body health, calling it a window to the body. Things like pneumonia can originate with oral bacteria, and gum disease can lead to a host of issues including pancreatic cancer. He occasionally refers patients for diabetes evaluations based on the appearance of their gums.

Because it’s essential to overall health, Kendrick’s mission is to teach his patients how to care for their teeth between cleanings to prevent gum disease and tooth decay. He has realized over the years that some patients don’t believe they can afford preventative care and only seek help when it becomes too painful to ignore.

“We sort out what the most important things are to do, and hopefully we get to accomplish those,” Kendrick said. “Not in every case do we even accomplish the most important things.”

Kendrick said if people can’t afford regular cleanings, they should learn how to properly brush and maintain their teeth themselves. He maintains that this basic health information should be taught in schools.

“We’re having to go back to basics and teach people how to brush, how to move a brush,” Kendrick said. “If you go and watch people brush, the sawing motion doesn’t get it. There’s a jiggle and pressure down into the gum line, like pushing back a cuticle before putting nail polish, and that method works. That method won’t work if your teeth are covered with tartar.”

The amount of emergency dental care needed in Northeast greatly exceeds the levels seen in more affluent areas where cosmetic care is the focus, Kendrick said.

“The dental needs around here are great, and it’s largely due to economics and it’s largely due to lack of education,” he said.

Kendrick stays so busy that he would rather educate patients than have to repair the same problem twice. Throughout his career, he has seen family patterns of seeking care pass on to younger generations. For example, if parents have lost their teeth and have dentures, children are likely to follow suit.

Many of Kendrick’s office staff have been with the business for years, one celebrating 30 years this year. Even decades later, he also has one returning patient who visited his father’s one-chair practice, the soda fountain girl from Pierce’s Drug Store, who once held him as a baby.

In addition to educating patients, Kendrick has been charged with grading the mannequins on behalf of the Missouri Dental Association for dental assistant hopefuls. He also occasionally mentors people that come to observe clinical activities as they consider dentistry as a career.

He is proud to share that his part-time dental assistant of six years, Vi, has been accepted to the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Dentistry. She completed her dental assistant training as was recommended by the head of the Penn Valley program to become a dentist.

Vi is Vietnamese, and her ability to translate has been an asset to the practice.

“I’m finding that it’s immensely helpful to have a native speaker translate dental science and our habits of prevention into the Vietnamese community,” Kendrick said. “As a general rule, the Vietnamese community has not had available the prevention and education in their own community and culture, so they bring with them ideas that it’s okay to let teeth fall out.”

Vi is shifting attitudes in her community and in other foreign culture communities. Kendrick said he hopes to see her play a role in public health for preventative dentistry and dental health, and how it connects to overall health.

Dr. Kendrick is seeing patients with precautions in place, and has early morning and evening appointments available. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Kendrick, call (816) 231-3333.

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