Dental Heroes: A conversation with Dr. Grant McGann

2012 01 26 10 49 40 787 Grant Mc Gann 70

In this latest installment of's Dental Heroes series, we talked with Grant McGann, DDS, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon who has volunteered more than 199 hours performing reconstructive surgeries for patients with facial deformities and other conditions at Fresh Start, a San Diego-based charity.

Fresh Start provides medical treatments to low-income, uninsured, and underinsured infants, children, and teens with a physical deformity due to birth defect, disease, accident, or abuse. Its medical program includes reconstructive surgeries, laser clinics, speech therapy clinics, and dental clinics.

The organization hosts six to seven surgery weekends each year, when experts in reconstructive surgery treat patients. In addition, dental clinics are held 13 times annually at the offices of San Diego dentists and orthodontists who volunteer their time and their facilities. Patients from across the U.S. travel and stay in San Diego to receive treatment, and all lodging, food, and travel are provided at no cost to them or their families.

Dr. McGann, who earned his dental degree from the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry and completed his oral and maxillofacial surgery residency at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC, joined Fresh Start as a volunteer in 2009. What prompted you to volunteer for Fresh Start?

Grant McGann, DDSGrant McGann, DDS
Grant McGann, DDS

Dr. McGann: Over the years I have been involved with various surgical mission trips. These trips and the incredible impact that they had on those in need motivated me to become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. In my experience, helping others is one of the most rewarding things people can do with their life. I am fortunate to have been trained and mentored by excellent surgeons who stressed the importance of not only helping people in my own private practice but through volunteer organizations such as Fresh Start.

Fresh Start provides the opportunity to dramatically impact those with the greatest need, here at home in San Diego. The wonderful work done by the team of surgeons, orthodontists, general dentists, nurses, and other volunteers always exceeds my expectations.

What kinds of services can dental professionals provide as volunteers for Fresh Start?

There is a great need for all types of dental professionals. Fresh Start patients need restorative work, implants, extractions, full-mouth rehabilitation, and other dental care.

“Fresh Start dramatically changes the lives of children and young adults.”
— Grant McGann, DDS

Orthodontics is particularly important for managing the many complex dentofacial deformity cases in the Fresh Start program. There are many patients in the program who have cleft lip and palate, hemifacial microstomia, and other rare craniofacial problems.

As an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, I provide corrective jaw surgery, distraction osteogenesis, alveolar bone grafting, complicated implant treatment, and other oral surgery procedures.

What is unique about the mission of Fresh Start?

Fresh Start is different from other organizations that only provide reconstructive surgery for patients with cleft lip and palate. The program has volunteers from multiple medical and dental specialties who take care of the patient for many years. This allows Fresh Start to offer a wider breadth of services and treat people with all kinds of problems and deformities from head to toe.

Many organizations provide only part of the care necessary to treat these complex patients. Because Fresh Start is not a travel-based volunteer program, long-term follow-up provides unequaled quality of care. In addition, we have the benefit of operating in the same modern facilities where we practice every day. The team-based model is key to providing excellent service. Collaboration with other talented caregivers is very rewarding and beneficial to delivering better long-term results.

What are some common deformities you have treated, and what have been some of the challenges of working for Fresh Start?

The most common deformities I treat are hemifacial microstomia and cleft lip and palate. I am involved with corrective jaw surgery and distraction osteogenesis of the ramus and condyle. Corrective jaw surgery is the main focus of my private practice, which makes Fresh Start a great fit for me and gives me the resources to manage the severe cases in the program.

The biggest challenge in working with Fresh Start is the complexity of the patient population. The patient needs are great and require perseverance, but the rewards for the patients are amazing.

How much time and effort has it taken on your part to treat patients for Fresh Start?

I volunteer at the surgery weekends, which take place every six weeks. I generally spend Saturday doing surgery and Sunday volunteering in the clinic.

In between surgery weekends, I see eight to 10 Fresh Start patients during my regular office hours for pre- and postoperation work. I also participate in medical board meetings in which specialists from different fields gather to discuss potential patients and how we may be able to help them.

What motivates you to help?

Fresh Start dramatically changes the lives of children and young adults by providing them with care that they could not get anywhere else. Our patients have severe facial deformities that require highly specialized medical care. Many of these children do not have any insurance, or, even if they do, their facial deformity may be characterized as a cosmetic issue, which prevents them from getting the treatment they desperately need to lead normal lives.

Fresh Start fills this crucial gap, and through my work with the organization, I can use my skills to change a child's life. It is very rewarding to be a part of this process.

Also, as an oral surgeon, I try to keep myself grounded, focused, and interested in my work. The cases that I see at Fresh Start challenge me and help me improve my skills.

Beloved Jefeti got his teeth and smile back at Fresh Start.Beloved Jefeti got his teeth and smile back at Fresh Start.
Beloved Jefeti got his teeth and smile back at Fresh Start.

Of all the people you have helped over the years, is there a special case or cases that stand out for you?

The case that first comes to mind is that of Beloved Jefeti, who grew up in Zimbabwe. When he was 10, he found a land mine in his grandmother's yard, and the mine detonated in his face. Although he underwent treatment in Zimbabwe, his face still required extensive reconstruction. Many years later, he was brought to the U.S., where he underwent reconstructive surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was left without teeth and a smile. We have since shortened his upper lip, placed dental implants, and restored his smile with a fixed bridge restoration. He is a fabulous person, and giving him his smile and teeth back has been an extremely rewarding experience.

For information on volunteering for Fresh Start, visit the volunteer opportunities page on its website.

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