“After college, I drove my mother to the dentist to get her teeth fixed,” said Dr. Suzzette Lirio-Ona. “After having six crowns restored, her life changed. She went from being a meek and shy person who covered her smile to a friendly person who couldn’t stop smiling. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a dentist.”
After graduating from Mount Holyoke College in 1989 with high honors in biochemistry, Ona pursued her dream of becoming a dentist. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard School of Dental Medicine in 1998 and then attended the University of Washington General Residency program, where she received intensive training to treat medically, mentally and physically challenged adults and children.
In 1999, Ona settled in Grand Rapids with her husband and daughter, and opened Healthy Smile in April 2014. Healthy Smile offers a wide array of services from preventive, restorative, pediatric and emergency dentistry.
“I envisioned a dental office where patients felt at home,” Ona said. “I wanted patients to feel as though they’re visiting family and close friends.”
In 2014, Ona helped build a local dental clinic.
“During that time, I realized I had to do more for the disabled community,” she said.
While Ona was meeting with a local organization, a community health worker explained the perils of dentistry for disabled individuals. One story involved patients with autism, who were driven two hours to Ann Arbor and held down by three employees to receive dental treatment as an outpatient procedure. The patients were left distraught with gauze in their mouths and driven back to Grand Rapids.
“I couldn’t believe that was happening,” said Ona. “Since I have the training and ability, I offered to help so we can take care of our community in Grand Rapids.”
Ona spends most of her Friday’s taking care of those in need—whether in the office or in local hospitals. She serves patients with chronic diseases and disabilities and accepts a wide range of special case referrals from many local nonprofit community organizations. For those unable to afford dental care, Healthy Smile offers flexible payment plans including care credit and learning club, and the office participates in insurances that other offices disregard.
“My favorite part of my job is helping my patients rebuild self confidence and hope,” she said.
For more information on Dr. Ona's practice, Healthy Smile Family & Cosmetic Dentistry, visit www.onahealthysmile.com.
Photo courtesy of Nathan English Photography.