Dr. Joel R. Benk, 60: Midtown dentist didn’t just care about teeth

Dr. Joel Benk was a dentist who was interested in more than his patients’ oral health. Family and friends say Benk was genuinely concerned about the well-being of all people, not just those who sat in his exam rooms on Peachtree Street.

“He was always helping people, giving of himself,” said Keith Gilleard, a family friend. “He wasn’t selfish. I think giving was one of the many ways he supported his community.”

Joel Ronny Benk of Atlanta died Wednesday from complications of a heart attack. He was 60.

Plans are being made for a memorial gathering, family members said. West Cobb Funeral Home is in charge of cremation and final arrangements.

At the time of his death, Benk still practiced at his office, the Atlanta Dental Center in midtown.

Debbie Benk said her husband often attended dental conferences, looking to keep up with changing technology and offer his patients the cutting edge of dentistry.

Joel Benk graduated from Emory University’s dental school in 1980 and never left the Atlanta area. The New York-born doctor specialized in cosmetic dentistry and had patients from all over the world. With his office a block away from the Fox Theater, Benk often saw cast members of many major productions.

“He knew they didn’t always have time to see a dentist because they were on the road so much,” said Benk, who worked with her husband. “He wanted to see what we could do to help them.”

Benk not only encouraged people to take care of their mouths, but he also helped connect them to other health resources, friends and family said.

“My dad was a visionary, in terms of how to best help his patients and others,” said Eva Sales, a daughter who lives in Clearwater, Fla. “He wasn’t just fixing teeth, he wanted to make sure the person he was working with could improve their life and overall health.”

Sales said her father worked to prevent drug abuse in the dental community and beyond.

Benk got involved with the California-based Foundation for a Drug Free World and became an advocate for the prevention of drug abuse.

Sale said her father was extremely careful about the drugs he used at his practice, and Benk’s wife said he did that while providing a comfortable, calming atmosphere in the office.

“He wanted to make it as easy as possible on the person in the chair,” Debbie Benk said. “He knew it could be an emotional experience for some, so he did what he could to reduce the pain, anxiety or fear a person might have.”

In addition to his wife and daughter, Benk is also survived by children, Joshua Benk of Pasadena, Calif., Jessica Benk of Clearwater, and Ryan Benk of Atlanta; and one granddaughter.

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