Dental students important to CDA Cares' success

Erin Shah, DDS, was a dental student at the University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry when the CDA Foundation held its first CDA Cares clinic in Modesto in 2012. It was there that she met a patient whose dental fear had prevented him from seeing a dentist for more than a decade.

Shah could see the patient was in immense pain, severe enough to warrant standing in line and anxiously waiting hours for treatment before the clinic’s doors opened.

“I provided a hand to hold while he had his work done, and in the end his gratitude for being out of pain and for the compassion he received from the volunteers was heartwarming. I think that is something that stands out about the CDA Cares events — it is not simply that treatment is rendered, but how each patient is treated with dignity, compassion and respect that make these events really special,” Shah said.

Shah, who has since graduated and practices in San Francisco, also organized the student volunteer effort at UOP for CDA Cares Modesto, Sacramento and San Jose and recruited students who were eager to lend a hand. She helped ensure the students were matched with jobs appropriate to their skill set.  As a volunteer, she worked in many areas of the clinic, filling in where she was most needed.

“Not every job at the event is glamorous, but every job is important and I’m proud that UOP students chip in with as much enthusiasm, whether they are on trash duty, dispensing materials or assisting chairside,” Shah said. “CDA Cares has shown me how rewarding a career in dentistry can be, both personally and professionally.”

Dental students who volunteer at CDA Cares events work in central supply, sterilization and chairside and help operate the computers in the X-ray area, escort patients and serve as general volunteers. Nearly 800 dental students have volunteered at CDA Cares. Since 2012, CDA Cares clinics have provided $9.2 million in oral health care services to 11,901 patients.

Matthew Stephens is a dental student at UCLA School of Dentistry. At CDA Cares Solano County, he met a patient who had recently had a stroke and didn’t have access to dental care because he was out of work and had outstanding medical bills. He had come to CDA Cares looking for a cleaning, but ended up receiving extractions he desperately needed, in addition to a prophy. 

“The gratitude he showed to the providing doctor is unforgettable,” Stephens said. “Volunteering at CDA Cares is an experience unlike any other. It is an opportunity to see firsthand the extent of unmet need and to understand that California needs better oral health care coverage to provide assistance to the underserved. It is the chance to make an immediate positive impact in someone’s life and to witness their gratitude.”

Stephens began volunteering at CDA Cares clinics as a general volunteer when he was a pre-dental student. He has since volunteered in sterilization and in oral surgery at the most recent CDA Cares in Pomona.

“I think CDA Cares clinics help to show the impact that oral health care can have on a community. It is amazing to see the degree a repaired smile can have on an individual’s health and perception of self-worth,” Stephens said.

Volunteering at CDA Cares hasn't just had a positive impact on dental students and recent graduates, it also has sparked interest in some to pursue a career in dentistry. Rick Nichols, DDS, volunteered in the pediatric area at CDA Cares Pomona and had someone he knew quite well assisting him chairside — his daughter, Janelle. When she was younger, Janelle had thought about becoming a dentist, but that phase had passed, she said. But then she volunteered for the first time at CDA Cares.

“I had the opportunity to spend time with my dad at CDA Cares meeting all of his professional friends and being able to help meet the dental needs of so many, it inspired me again to pursue dentistry as a career,” Janelle said.

CDA Cares allows volunteer dentists, with the assistance of other dental professionals and general volunteers, to provide dental services at no charge to patients who experience barriers to care. The program also educates the public and policymakers about the importance of good oral health and the need for an adequately funded dental safety net that includes a state dental director — the state is in the hiring process — who can develop cost-effective, quality programs to improve the oral health of Californians.

“These clinics highlight the unfortunate reality that there are barriers to care affecting so much of the population, and that these people need immediate assistance,” Stephens said.

Patients at CDA Cares receive fillings, extractions, cleanings, oral health education and resources for finding a dental home for future care.

“We are proud of what we have accomplished with CDA Cares and we thank all of the volunteers, dental students and recent graduates who have taken the time to help Californians in need,” said CDA Foundation Chair Don Rollofson, DMD. “The students bring a sense of ‘the future of dentistry’ and enthusiasm to CDA Cares. The dentists love interacting and mentoring the students and we look forward to keeping that synergy going at CDA Cares Sacramento in March."

Shah encourages all dental students and new dentists to get involved at CDA Cares.

“It is an extremely rewarding service experience. It is also simple to get involved — there are hundreds of volunteer spots available, you don’t need to bring any equipment or instruments, you simply show up with a spirit of camaraderie and giving and you will see the difference your skills make in so many lives,” Shah said. “Already, graduates who volunteered as students at CDA Cares are returning to volunteer as dentists.”

The next CDA Cares clinic will be held in Sacramento at the Cal Expo Fairgrounds March 27-28. For more information, visit cdafoundation.org/cdacares.