PILSEN — In an effort to bridge a health care gap in Pilsen, dentist Elisa Ochoa will open her own dental practice in the neighborhood this summer.
Ochoa will open Pilsen Smiles, a new dentist office, in the old Lucky's Barbershop building at 971 W. 18th St. If all goes well, Ochoa hopes to have the practice up and running by August.
The 32-year-old Pilsen resident, a first-generation Mexican-American, aims to provide quality dental care to the Latino community, she said this month.
"I've always, always wanted to open in Pilsen," Ochoa said. "When my parents first came to the country, this is where they came."
Ochoa's parents immigrated to the United States from Guadalajara, Mexico in the late 1960s and 1970s. The youngest of three daughters, Ochoa never lived in Pilsen as a kid — her family moved west, to Brighton Park — but she spent many weekends in the neighborhood visiting family.
A graduate of University of Illinois at Chicago's College of Dentistry and Whitney Young Magnet High School, a CPS selective enrollment school on the Near West Side, Ochoa said she first decided she wanted to be a dentist at age 14 during a field trip to the UIC dentistry school.
"There is a huge disparity in the Latino community in terms of access to health care. I saw a lot of need," Ochoa said. "There's often a lot of lack of communication between the doctor and the patient."
When her own parents started seeing a Spanish-speaking dentist, "it made all the difference," Ochoa said.
Now working at a practice in Garfield Ridge, Ochoa comes from a family of dentists — three of her uncles are dentists in Mexico.
Ochoa and her husband, Sean Sirkin, initially planned on renting a space to open a practice in Pilsen, but as rental prices skyrocketed, Ochoa decided to buy a building instead. The couple purchased the Pilsen storefront and neighboring parking lot in February 2015. The rehab project is a true family affair — Ochoa's father, Rodolfo Ochoa, is overseeing the rehab of the building.
Once the completed, Ochoa and her husband will move into an apartment above the practice, where they plan on raising a family, she said.
"I get that people don't like to see the dentist," she said with a laugh. "But I want our staff to know everyone, and everyone to know our staff."
As an alternative to traditional dental insurance, Ochoa plans to offer a membership program that gives practice members access to dental services, like two free cleanings and discounts on dental work, for a flat annual fee.
Ochoa's practice will also offer payment plans to members.
"Dentists get a reputation among the immigrant community as used car salesmen who just want to take their money. But when it hurts, we have very few options at that point," Ochoa said. "My biggest goal is to educate. If I can educate our patients, I can improve their overall dental health."
The practice will also invite specialized doctors in a few times each month so patients can have their wisdom teeth pulled by an oral surgeon or braces installed by an orthodontist.
"Our goal is to keep everything in house, under one roof," Ochoa said.
Dentist Elisa Ochoa will open Pilsen Smiles, a new dentist office, in the old Lucky's Barbershop on 18th Street. [dnainfo/Stephanie Lulay]
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