Foundation takes CDA Cares to San Diego

The CDA Foundation is set to host its fourth CDA Cares free dental clinic in San Diego in December, and the need couldn’t be greater.

The high cost of living in San Diego combined with the recent economic recession have put the underserved populations, including the “working poor,” in a situation where accessing care is difficult.

“There are a reasonable number of folks in San Diego, and across the state, who have jobs and make enough money to pay some bills, but paying for dental care is difficult for them,” said Joel Berick, DDS, co-chair of the San Diego clinic, which will be held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds on Dec. 7-8.

The San Diego clinic is the first CDA Cares clinic to be held in Southern California — the first three were in Modesto, Sacramento and San Jose. The three clinics combined have provided $4.4 million in care to 5,878 patients.

San Diego Clinic Co-Chair Misako Hirota, DMD, said she expects those totals to increase quite a bit in December.  

“There is a large need because it is very expensive to live in San Diego, and when the economy took a dive we had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the state,” Hirota said. “There are a lot of people who don’t have access to care, and that number went up in 2009 when the state cut the Adult Denti-Cal program. Many people here have three to four part-time jobs to make ends meet.”

People who experience barriers to care received some positive news in June when Gov. Jerry Brown approved a state budget plan that included funding for the partial restoration of Adult Denti-Cal benefits. Slated to begin in May 2014, at a proposed annual cost of $77 million to the state budget, the coverage includes preventive care, restorations and full dentures. Lawmakers, including Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), cited the CDA Foundation’s CDA Cares free dental clinics as a stark example of the tremendous need.

CDA Cares Sacramento Clinic Chair Russ Webb, DDS, said the partial restoration of Adult Denti-Cal is an example of how the clinics are not only shining a light on the pro-bono work that dentists do, but also how the clinics are having a significant impact on reducing barriers to care at a statewide level.

“There is a tremendous amount of need and restoring some of the Adult Denti-Cal services will help, but it isn’t going to take care of everyone in need (of dental care),” Webb said. “There are still millions of people who won’t be able to take advantage of the piece of the program that was restored, or who don’t qualify for Denti-Cal  — often referred to as the ‘working poor.’ They make just enough money to make them ineligible.”

To provide care at CDA Cares in San Diego, the CDA Foundation is calling on dentists and dental professionals to volunteer in areas throughout the clinic, including oral surgery, restorative, numbing, pediatrics, triage and routing.

“We need all hands on deck,” said CDA Foundation Chair Don Rollofson, DMD. “We are moving into a new area of the state so having as much help as we can get from volunteers and sponsors will be crucial.”

Dental team members— registered dental assistants and hygienists — are encouraged to volunteer as well. Community volunteers are needed to assist with registration, clinic setup, data entry, escorting patients, translating and much more. The CDA Cares clinical philosophy is to establish individual treatment plans with the goal of relieving pain and infection.

Michael Koonce, executive director of the San Diego Dental Society, will head up the effort to recruit volunteers, and said dentists in the area are excited about the clinic coming to Southern California.

“After the concept of CDA Cares was developed, our trustees came back and told us about the event and everyone’s ears perked up and the first thing that was asked was, ‘When will CDA Cares be in San Diego?’” Koonce said. “Several of our dentists have participated in the Northern California clinics. So many dentists here have had a good level of participation and have firsthand knowledge of what the event is.”

Hirota said volunteer oral surgeons will be vital to the clinics’ success. After attending the first CDA Cares clinic last May in Modesto, Hirota said she was “shocked” by the number of teeth that were extracted by oral surgeons.

“By 2 p.m. on the first day, hundreds of teeth had been extracted; that was very surprising to me. It’s unfortunate because with the right preventive care, this could be avoided, but I understand extractions are the treatment most needed in underserved populations,” Hirota said. “In private practice, I see full-mouth extractions maybe once or twice a year. It really opened my eyes as to how important oral surgeons are to these clinics.”

Between the Modesto, Sacramento and San Jose CDA Cares clinics, a total of 6,771 teeth were pulled. 

Another large component of the CDA Cares clinics is oral health education, said CDA President Lindsey Robinson, DDS.

“Helping people understand how important good oral health is, and providing oral health education and preventive treatment to young children, like fluoride and dental sealants, is a step in the right direction,” Robinson said. “At clinics like these, we can spend some time with parents and hopefully put their children on a healthier path.” 

With another large population set to take advantage of the generosity of the dental community, organizers expect CDA Cares San Diego to run just as smooth, if not smoother than previous clinics.

“We’re getting better and better at this; we are gaining momentum and the need for CDA Cares is not going to go away,” Webb said. “Volunteering or donating to help these people who need oral health care so badly is certainly very rewarding. If you volunteer in San Diego or help out with a cash or in-kind donation, you will walk away with a gratifying feeling that you have made a difference.”

For more information on the San Diego clinic and how to volunteer or donate, visit cdafoundation.org/cdacares.