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Dentist filling community’s needs

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Local dentist Dr. Keon Ahghar volunteers during this weekend’s free Remote Area Clinic. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

A local dentist, Dr. Keon Ahghar was instrumental in bringing a free clinic to Roswell this weekend in addition to his year-round practice.

Dr. Keon Ahghar is the organizer behind the local clinic from New Mexico Mission of Mercy, a program of the New Mexico Dental Association Foundation, and Remote Area Medical, which is happening this weekend at Roswell High School. (Alison Penn Photo)

The clinic is a joint effort of nonprofits New Mexico Mission of Mercy, a program of the New Mexico Dental Association Foundation, and Remote Area Medical (RAM), based out of Tennessee. It began on Saturday and continues today with doors opening at 6 a.m. at Roswell High School (RHS) at 500 W. Hobbs St.

A press release stated the school’s parking lot will be open at 12:01 a.m. and ticket distribution for the event starts at 3 a.m. The clinic’s services will include “dental cleanings, dental fillings, dental extractions, dental X-rays … eyeglasses made on-site (for patients who bring their eyeglass prescriptions), women’s health exams and general medical exams.”

The first New Mexico Mission of Mercy event took place in 2010 in Albuquerque. Ahghar participated and more than 2,000 people came for care. He noticed the needs in smaller communities would be different, so he began working in collaboration with RAM to create a scaled-down event for Roswell.

“It’s a really amazing event,” Ahghar said. “That’s what got me hooked was — in 2010, I went to the first one in New Mexico and seeing the impact it had. People lined up days before the event for services because they need those services. That was just for dental stuff then.”

The planning took a few years for the first event, which took place April 14-15 last year, also at RHS. Ahghar said about 400 people attended, 250 people volunteered and the providers donated more than $177,000 in free care.

“We experienced the same thing,” he recalled. “People lined up the night before for this Roswell event, and so it just goes back to validate why we are doing this. And it’s been amazing. We’ve got a lot of local people (who) just come out of the woodwork and volunteer. People that I’ve never known give up their weekend to serve their community. I think that’s really amazing.”

An eventual goal is to add more facets of healthcare, including haircuts and massage therapy, to the clinics, and to bring them other communities with similar needs like Carlsbad, Deming or Las Vegas.

“… I think once is a Band-Aid,” Ahghar said of hosting the Mission of Mercy. “I think twice is just a bigger Band-Aid. But if it’s something you can kind of turn into an annual event, maybe you’re actually making a difference.”

Born and raised in Albuquerque, Ahghar attended dental school at the University of the Pacific in San Franciso. He returned to Albuquerque for his residency at the University of New Mexico Hospital, where he met Dr. Sarah Usher, who is now his business partner at Carabelli Dental at 824 N. Main St.

Before the business was open, Ahghar and Usher opened a community health clinic on the south side of town in 2015. He said he realized the “enormous dental need” locally, that most Roswell residents have to drive to Albuquerque or Lubbock for oral surgery and other services. Now efforts are being made to provide services locally.

In high school, Ahghar lost his two front teeth while playing basketball and a dentist took care of him despite having just closed for the day. Ahghar said this surgeon took excellent care of him, changing his perspective on dentists, and the dentist suggested that Ahghar come job shadow at his office.

“Later down the road, I was talking to him one day and this was when I was already a dentist and already started practicing and stuff,” Ahghar said. “And, I was talking to him about how that moment was really, really important to me how he told me he believed in me — and he started laughing and he was like, ‘Honestly, I tell every kid that. I tell every kid that they would make a great dentist.’”

Currently, Ahghar is helping four dental students through job shadowing at his office and answering their questions. He said before the experience of losing his teeth and interacting with that dentist, he was unsure of what he wanted to do after high school.

“It’s kind of cool to be able to kind of further that legacy,” Ahghar said. “I think it’s important to try to inspire kids — whether you’re inspiring them to be a dentist, or an electrician, or an engineer, or a plumber — to have someone that believes in you I think is really important. I think a lot of kids miss that. I feel like it’s a little bit of a — I don’t want to say it’s a responsibility — but it’s a privilege to often kind of be in a place where people may look up to you. …”

Outside of his work, Ahghar has been married for almost two years and he and his wife have a 1-year-old son. His own parents set an example of being hardworking and Ahghar said he is figuring out his own balance of being both a good father and providing an example of being involved in the community to his son.

Ahghar serves as board treasurer for the New Mexico Dental Association Foundation and is a member of Roswell Sertoma Club. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, camping and mountain biking.

Alex Pankey said Ahghar is one of the “finest men” he’s ever met and a great dentist.

“I would say if you don’t know him, you need to get to know him,” Pankey said of Ahghar. “He’s very outgoing. He is emphatic in his views and all he is interested in is trying to help mankind. … He loves people and he just can’t do enough for you. Matter of fact, I don’t know when the poor guy gets any rest.”

Another of Ahghar’s clients, Jim Crowl, also spoke to Ahghar’s friendliness and compassionate, understanding attitude. Crowl invited Ahghar to speak at the Sunrise Optimist Club.

“It’s not just a job to him,” Crowl said. “I think he wants to help people and do what he can, not just as a person, but as a resident of the Roswell area.”

Special projects reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.