Happy Hour on Fridays for Dr. Mike Diorio isn’t what you’d imagine, even though it involves joking around and sharing stories. A Denver dentist, Mike has been coming to Craig Hospital every Friday afternoon for nearly 25 years to see patients and families. He’s known for his trademark, “Happy Friday!” when he arrives on each floor.
“I love Fridays, because I love coming to Craig,” says Mike. “I roll my portable dental unit to the patient’s bedside and consult on everything from routine dental screenings to complex facial trauma.”
Mike’s zest for life and easy laugh make even seeing the dentist fun. His 30-year private practice of repeat patients attests to that, as does being named a top Denver dentist by 5280 Magazine for the past 10 years. His patients proclaim they actually like going to the dentist—even those who had unpleasant dental experiences in the past. Eliminating a fear of the dentist is one of his lifetime career goals.
Mike, along with Dr. Jean Link, make up the core of the dental program at Craig—both provide general dentistry to patients on and offsite in their wheelchair friendly dental offices. The team also includes consulting oral surgeons, endodontists and orthodontists. Mike provides cleanings and fillings to patients and even their families.
“Families are often uprooted, so if a family member has a dental need, we are happy to take care of them,” Mike says.
A stand-out accomplishment for Mike is creating a custom mouth stick for patients who have sustained spinal cord injuries and lost the use of their arms and hands. For these patients, a mouth stick means freedom, empowering them to operate their phone, computer and other electronics. Some even use it to create art.
“It started 15 years ago when an occupational therapist asked me if I could create a custom mouth stick for an artist who wanted to draw again. The standard mouth stick didn’t work because it was too thick and hard, and it gave her mouth spasms,” Mike says. “In collaboration with Dave Birkle, Craig’s Rehabilitation Engineer, I designed a custom mouth stick that fit over her bottom teeth and was very thin.”
From there, he worked with a local dental lab to make the mouth piece. It was so successful they now make them regularly. By donating his own time, he’s whittled the cost down to $400 a piece, making it affordable for most patients who want one. Brett Colonell, a local artist who donates mouth-stick art to Craig’s PUSH Gala each year, is one of them.
“If every hospital could provide care like Craig, our health care system would be amazing,” Mike says, whose son Ben is a nurse at Craig.
An avid road biker, Mike also participates each year in Craig’s Pedal 4 Possible century ride. This year’s event raised $210,000 for Craig’s Therapeutic Recreation program, a favorite program of so many Craig patients. Mike describes himself as having a bunch of energy, so he channels that into athletic activities like the century ride and quite recently Denver’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon.
“There hasn’t been a Friday I haven’t left Craig feeling better about life and the world. Listening to patients tell their stories and witnessing their determination blows me away. It’s truly an honor,” Mike says.