Meet Dr. Darleen Oleski, Lead Dentist, The Wright Center for Primary Care Mid Valley

Serving the underserved and alleviating fears of the dentist—Dr. Darleen Oleski aims to do both at The Wright Center’s recently expanded oral health clinic. In addition to her role at The Wright Center, Dr. Oleski operates a private practice and has been recently appointed Chairman of the Government Relations Committee of the Pennsylvania Dental Association.

Why did you become a dentist? Watching my dentist during my appointment inspired me when I was just 4-years-old. I can still remember what his office looked like, and how great he made me feel. Later, in high school and college, I shadowed Dr. Umerich, our family dentist. I learned that I loved the ability to create with my hands and improve patient’s smiles and health.

Lessons learned in dental school: I learned how to be accountable for myself, since it was my first time living away from my family.  I also met people from many different backgrounds and cultures for the first time, which helped me to become more open-minded.  Living in Philadelphia also showed me the social and financial challenges that people have in larger cities.

Why did you decide to join The Wright Center? I saw an unfulfilled need in our community that I could not fulfill in my private practice. Our community has had an increase in dental decay and infection, leading many to seek out care in hospitals. However, hospitals are not equipped to handle dental issues adequately and patients cannot find dentists who accept their insurance, driving up costs. I had a conversation with Dr. Linda Thomas-Hemak—a strong advocate for improving population health—about what she had created at The Wright Center. The Wright Center’s oral health clinic was started 3-and-a-half-years ago with the hope of educating people about oral health while providing basic dental services.

What does it mean to be the Chairman of the Government Relations Committee of the PA Dental Association? The Government Relations Committee of the PA Dental Association works to protect the welfare of our patients and our profession.  We act as liaisons between the dentists, the State Board of Dentistry, patient advocates and lobbyists, and try to review and comment on proposed state government legislation related to the health of our patients.  It is a challenge, as there many issues that we are being asked to comment on. However, I am honored to work towards a better system for all.

Common misconception about oral health: “I have always had bad teeth, so I should probably just have them all pulled and get dentures.”  Dentures will only give you 50% of your chewing ability back, will interfere with the way you speak and compromise the way your food tastes.  Dentures can also cause a mouth infections and irritation.  Prevention is key—just seeing a dentist every six months for dental cleanings and yearly x-rays can prevent most issues.

Best part of your profession: Helping people feel better, whether that is getting patients out of pain or improving their smile.

Worst part of my profession: Not being able to help people due to socioeconomic, psychosocial or psychological constraints.  Dentistry can be expensive from the patient and the doctor’s perspective.  It’s also very hard psychologically to have a first-time patient say, “I hate the dentist.”  So many people have fears relating to dentistry, and sometimes their oral health suffers as a result. Thankfully, oral health providers including myself are working to make people more comfortable, one visit at a time.

Benefits of the oral health clinic expansion at The Wright Center for Primary Care Mid Valley:  We can treat more patients who need our care the most.  The dental clinic is looking forward to continuing to expand on the dental services we provide.  We are adding additional clinic hours and additional providers to meet the needs of our community.

If you weren’t a dentist, what would you do?  I probably would have pursued a career as an orchestral musician. Believe it or not, my other passion is music. I have been a concert musician for about 39 years and I have never lost my love for music and the joy it brings.

Hobbies: I have been playing oboe in the Wyoming Seminary Civic Symphony for over 10 years and have played with my daughters, who are violinists, for a number of years, too.  I am also a runner – at times, more active than others.  Over 10 years ago I got involved with the Steamtown Marathon because of the amazing work they do for the children of St. Joseph’s Center. When I ran the marathon and saw the children of St. Joe’s cheering for us on the top of Electric Street, I just knew those volunteers were doing something positive for the community. I currently serve as a registration chairman.

Family:  I have two daughters, Julia and Rachel, who are students at the University of Scranton. We are animal lovers, and have four dogs and two cats!

Oral health tip:  Parents, watch the amount of sugar in your child’s diet and encourage them to only drink water between meals.  Brush and floss before bedtime, and be sure to assist children 10 and under. Dentists want to see your child by their first birthday or when they get their first tooth!  We want to educate parents and develop a relationship with children while they are young to prevent future fears of the dentist.

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