Far-flung relatives witness patient's first glimpse of smile at CDA Cares

In the small, close-knit Tongan community in Hayward and the surrounding region, word spread rapidly about a no-cost dental clinic that would visit nearby San Mateo in spring of 2017. Among those who learned about the CDA Foundation’s two-day, volunteer-run biannual clinic was a woman named Eva.

“Word spread like wildfire,” says Eva’s daughter Oli, who helped her mother with travel, language translation and other logistics before, during and after the San Mateo clinic. “One lady got up during one of our Tongan church services in East Palo Alto and announced it … free dental care coming to San Mateo … and it just took off. They all planned to meet up in San Mateo. A lot of them traveled for it.”

Oli says she took Eva to the San Mateo Event Center to get in line at around 11 the night before the clinic opened. After camping on-site with friends and family members, Eva entered the clinic early Saturday morning. Already partially edentulous, she would leave later that day with her remaining six teeth extracted. But she was prepared, said Oli, who translated for Eva in this article.

“She had an idea of what was to come, as her teeth just weren’t in good condition, but she was ready to try something new.”

Six months later, Eva returned to CDA Cares — this time traveling to Bakersfield to receive a complete set of dentures, her appointment scheduled by CDA Cares staff about two months in advance. There was no overnight camping or waiting in line for Eva at this event, as prescheduled denture patients are instructed to proceed directly to patient registration and then to the dental lab area.

In a CDA Cares video that to date has been shared 111 times and garnered more than 14,000 views on Facebook, Eva looks admiringly into a hand mirror at the new teeth she received in Bakersfield. “They’re so beautiful,” she says, smiling radiantly as long-time volunteer Allen Wong, DDS, EdD, who fitted Eva with the dentures, stood by, also smiling.

“So many people, mostly Eva’s friends, were sharing the video on my page, and I told them that of course I knew about it!” says Oli, laughing. Eva’s first cousins in Tonga — an archipelago in the South Pacific — even watched the video and added their comments, which delighted Eva.

Eva says the dentures did take some time getting used to, but she reports today that she loves them. “It’s very nice,” she says, adding that she’s pleased to be able to eat what she’s long wanted to eat. “The joy of eating peanuts in the car on the way home to San Mateo from Bakersfield … this is what she remembers,” Oli says. Well, that and the reaction she received when she came home from the clinic.

“Grandma got her teeth,” cried her grandkids. Eva called this the most enjoyable moment of all.

In addition to providing fillings, extractions, cleanings and other oral health care services at no charge to those in need, CDA Cares educates the public and policymakers about the importance of good oral health and the need for a well-functioning Denti-Cal program. Last October at CDA Cares Bakersfield — the Foundation’s 12th clinic — volunteer dentists and dental professionals provided more than $1.25 million in care to 1,506 people. The next CDA Cares clinic takes place April 27-28 in Anaheim at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Register to volunteer for CDA Cares Anaheim. Watch the video of Eva on the CDA Cares Facebook page.

Related Items

Between the two of them, Jesica Gonzalez and Walter Fuentes, both third-year dental students, have volunteered at 10 CDA Cares clinics. As the Bakersfield natives have progressed in school — Gonzalez at UCSF School of Dentistry and Fuentes at UCLA School of Dentistry — they and others have seen their capabilities evolve at the CDA Foundation’s biannual two-day clinic, which provides oral health care services at no charge to underserved communities.

The Oct. 6-7 CDA Cares event in Bakersfield marked the CDA Foundation’s 12th successful volunteer dental clinic — providing more than $1.25 million in care to 1,506 people over two days at the Kern County Fairgrounds. In addition to providing oral health care services at no charge to those in need, CDA Cares educates the public and policymakers about the importance of good oral health and the need for a well-functioning Denti-Cal program.