CDA Cares treatment offers patients a pathway to employment

Jacqueline worked in the banking industry for more than 25 years, and served as a vice president at a major bank for many of those years. After making the decision to move from Arizona, where she was employed, to San Francisco with the expectation it would be relatively easy to find a new job, she began to have health issues. She was diagnosed with diabetes, which led to oral health issues that resulted in serious damage to her teeth and gums.  

The diabetes took its toll, leaving her with around a dozen of her teeth and only two-and-a-half anterior teeth, all while she was on the job hunt.

Jacqueline had interviewed with 10 different companies, she said, and would typically make it to the second or third round of interviews. When she was continuously skipped over for a job offer, she began to wonder why — that’s when she realized it wasn’t her experience holding her back; it was her appearance.

“I finally came to that realization and it was devastating,” Jacqueline said. “I tried to hide it, and do my best in hiding the situation when being interviewed … but depending on how I spoke or depending on what gesture I used, you could tell.”

Jacqueline even asked if she had other competition in some of the interviews and was told “no.” She knew her teeth were being noticed.

“Gestures do tell you a lot and when you have an interviewer looking at your facial expressions and when they called you in more than once and they are double checking your facial expression more than anything else, it’s obvious,” Jacqueline said. 

She decided her best course of action would be to get dentures and came across information about the CDA Foundation’s CDA Cares program. She attended CDA Cares San Jose last May but after discovering she would have to get all of her teeth extracted in order to get dentures, she got nervous and left the clinic. But after continued rejection for employment, she knew she had to make a change.

“I finally said, ‘enough is enough. I can’t live this way.’ My quality of life was not normal, there were days I wouldn’t leave my home,” said Jacqueline, who described herself as an outgoing person.

She began researching the denture procedure and gained the confidence to drive, with her husband Angel, to CDA Cares San Diego last December, where she had her teeth extracted. CDA Cares staff kept in touch with Jacqueline and arranged for her to attend CDA Cares Solano on April 26 to have her new dentures placed.

On the day that her life would be changed forever, she couldn’t hold back her excitement.

“Finally I can be normal, I can be social, be entertaining. As my daughter said, ‘now you are going to be that social butterfly like you’ve always been,’” Jacqueline said.

The CDA Foundation and CDA developed CDA Cares to provide dental care and oral health education at no charge to Californians, like Jacqueline, who experience barriers to care, and provide them with a pathway to employment.  

CDA Cares was held at the Solano County Fairgrounds on April 25-26 and provided nearly $1.5 million in charitable dental services at no charge to 1,959 people. During the two-day event, dentists and dental professionals provided cleanings, fillings, extractions and oral health education. Additionally, volunteer technicians in the dental lab area worked to provide full dentures and stayplates. The clinic was supported by nearly 1,800 volunteers, including more than 800 health professionals — dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, nurses and dental lab technicians — as well as hundreds of community volunteers.

Aside from relieving pain and infection, a goal of CDA Cares is to raise awareness with the public, the media and policymakers about the importance of good oral health and the need for a state dental director and state oral health infrastructure to support oral health.

“While the state has taken a positive first step with the partial restoration of adult Denti-Cal, the need for an adequately funded dental safety net is evident at each of these events,” said CDA President James Stephens, DDS. “We must have a state dental director, as proposed in the governor’s revised budget, to develop and manage a state oral health plan that includes prevention programs and can access federal dollars to support the oral health of Californians.”

In total, nine local and state elected officials visited CDA Cares Solano. One of those elected officials was Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Newsom said touring the clinic invigorated him with a sense of responsibility as an elected official to do more to raise awareness. He also acknowledged how patients at the clinic will have better employment opportunities thanks to the work of the volunteer dentists.

“There’s an ethical construct here. This is about morality, it’s about a sense of responsibility and community and the common wealth. But there is also an economic imperative … to give people that opportunity to take their résumé and go in front of a potential job suitor and be able to communicate effectively with a sense of self-esteem and confidence that you need to get through a job interview and get a job,” Newsom said. “The great thing is something like this, it keeps giving back. It’s not just the two days. Some people’s lives go on a completely new trajectory.”

Another patient at CDA Cares Solano who may be on a new trajectory after receiving dentures on April 26 is Fresno resident, Arthur. He has had several missing teeth for five years. Currently a construction worker, he has been doing repairs to walls and carpentry on rentals owned by an investor. That investor told him recently that if he got his teeth fixed he had a good-paying position available that requires interaction with the public and was confident he could do it.

“He’s waiting for me to get back and wants to see them [his new teeth],” Arthur said. “It’s going to change everything. I have confidence again, I’ll be able to go back to work … I don’t have to hide it because it is embarrassing.”

Aside from the 58 full and 98 partial dentures patients received at CDA Cares Solano, there were 10,655 total services provided, including cleanings, fillings, extractions and oral health education. Since 2012, the CDA Cares program has provided $7.5 million in dental services at no charge to 10,040 patients.

As for Jacqueline, she said she plans to take some time getting used to her new dentures and learning to speak properly with them. After that, she will be ready to jump back into the job hunt.

When asked what the first thing she we will do when she sits down for an interview, she responded with “smile.”

For more information about CDA Cares, visit cdafoundation.org/cda-cares.