CDA Cares spotlights need for state oral health infrastructure

With an estimated 10 million people in California experiencing barriers to oral health care and adult Denti-Cal benefits being a thing of the past due to 2009 state budget cuts, the chairs never got a rest at CDA Cares Sacramento.

Hosted by CDA and the CDA Foundation Aug. 24–25, the free dental clinic served 2,026 patients and provided more than $1.655 million in oral health care services — a telling sight for the elected officials who toured the clinic.

“I was overwhelmed, really, by the number of people that are in need, and I had a couple of reactions: I am so grateful to the California dentists, CDA and all of the dental assistants for working so hard to try to fill a terrible void in helping so many people,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. “At the same time, it is really sad to me because I know that this is only necessary because of the budget cuts that we have made with great reluctance over the past number of years.”

Steinberg is one of 11 elected officials who toured the clinic.

Richard Pan, MD, MPH, a Sacramento assemblymember, pediatrician and U.C. Davis educator, said he also is aware that state budget cuts are one of the main reasons there were so many people who camped out overnight to get into the clinic.

“It’s sad to see that there are this many people who were at the clinic that have been unable to get dental care,” Pan said.

Pan has a message for his fellow elected officials.

“There is certainly a growing body of research showing that not only does oral health affect a patient’s quality of life, but it also has major impacts on their overall health. I think it’s important for people to understand that, particularly policymakers,” Pan said.

Assemblymember Mike Gatto also observed the line of people waiting outside of the clinic to receive care.

“The number of people lining up for care, and the number of people volunteering to provide it, was breathtaking. I greatly appreciate the CDA for stepping up to fill this vacuum,” Gatto said.

The Sacramento clinic was the second installment of CDA Cares — the first was held in Modesto in May. The Modesto clinic provided $1.2 million in dental care to more than 1,650 people over two days.

CDA and the CDA Foundation developed CDA Cares to provide free dental services and oral health education to Californians who experience barriers to care and to raise awareness with the public and policymakers about the need for a state dental director and oral health infrastructure to support oral health.

Many of those who waited in line at the Sacramento clinic were appreciative of the care they received.

“I would love to say to everyone that was here that they did a wonderful job. I appreciate them being patient with all of their patients. Keep up the good work,” said Wendy, a patient from Sacramento.

Things went smoothly not only for the patients, but also for the volunteers, according to Clinic Chair Russell Webb, DDS.

“There were many times when I thought, ‘Look at this machine running,’” Webb said.

Planning for a CDA Cares clinic takes several months of work from a plethora of dentist leaders and lay volunteers. Webb said there were lessons learned at the Modesto clinic that prompted changes in Sacramento.

Webb’s alterations included moving sterilization to the center of the clinic, thereby improving traffic flow so leads in each department (hygiene, oral surgery, anesthesia, etc.) didn’t have to cross paths so frequently.

“We had more space here, so that allows more leeway,” Webb said.

Also, instead of putting all of the supplies in one area as in Modesto, each department’s supplies were located within their stations. Webb said small changes like this can make a significant difference and that he was pleased with how everything turned out.

“It’s so neat when a plan starts to come together, and it’s with good people,” Webb said.

More than 1,200 volunteers, including 300 dentists and dental professionals teamed up to provide cleanings, fillings, extractions and oral health education for the underserved at the two-day clinic.

Douglas Gordon, DDS, practices in Pinole. He brought his staff and wife with him to volunteer in Sacramento. Gordon has volunteered at similar events such as the East Bay Stand Down, a clinic for homeless veterans; and he was happy with the CDA Cares system.

“It was pleasantly surprising how well organized it was and how well the equipment worked,” Gordon said.

Supplies, materials and panorex machines were provided by presenting sponsors Benco Dental and Carestream Dental. Premier sponsor Patterson Dental provided dental lab supplies, Straine Dental Consulting sponsored the volunteer orientation dinner, and Capital Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery sponsored the oral surgery treatment area.

“The support we received from our partners has been outstanding. Having their backing is vital to the success of these events, and we truly appreciate it,” said CDA Foundation Chair Don Rollofson, DMD. “It shows how dedicated the dental community is to helping people in need of oral health care.”

Both Rollofson and Webb were pleased at the outcome of the clinic and stress similar sentiments when it comes to fixing California’s oral health infrastructure.

“The severe oral disease we saw at the clinic is unfortunate, and it underscores the need for a state dental director and a safety net of public oral health programs to improve the oral health of underserved Californians,” Webb said.

Dan Davidson, DMD, president of CDA said dentists can only do so much.

“When we visit legislators, we tell them that we are in this together: We elect you to help run our country and our state, but we need your help on this,” Davidson said. “We can provide millions of dollars in dental care but we need the preventive programs.”

California dentists provide free oral health care services worth an estimated $388 million each year ($15,668 per dentist).

The CDA Foundation is planning other CDA Cares events throughout California.  The next location will be chosen in September and scheduled for early 2013.

For more information on the clinics and to volunteer, visit cdafoundation.org/cdacares.