Student Loan Repayment Grant recipient to advocate for underserved

For Daniel Ramirez, DDS, personally encountering barriers to care in his early years ignited a passion for health care and an appreciation for the importance of diversity within the field. Dr. Ramirez, recipient of the CDA Foundation’s 2017 Student Loan Repayment Grant, grew up with two siblings and a disabled mother whose income was more than 500 percent below the poverty level. But he says he now embraces this adversity, using it to fuel his passion and serve his community “as the first dentist in my family.”

A 2016 graduate of the University of California, San Francisco, School of Dentistry, Ramirez can today be found giving back to his community at Coastal Health Alliance, a mobile clinic that provides care for the underserved in Point Reyes Station, an unincorporated town in West Marin County. Aside from a dental director’s regular functions, Ramirez, who also graduated cum laude with bachelor of science degrees in biology and psychology from the University of California, San Diego, is employing a strategy for reducing access-to-care issues that involves engaging local, state and national organizations — for what he says is optimum impact. Recently, he was selected to participate in the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership.

“Complex challenges require creative, multifaceted approaches,” says Ramirez, who plans to address health care obstacles through legislative initiatives, local community partnerships and organized dentistry. “Besides prevention, education and treatment, underserved patients also need an advocate who will fight for the elimination of barriers to care.”

Participating in the American Student Dental Association’s Lobby Day while in dental school helped Ramirez gain insight into the legislative process. He says the experience taught him that dental professionals can advocate for bills that impact the future of oral health for underserved patients, such as tele-dentistry programs. “My previous experience working with Congress inspires me to continue advocating for policy changes that will help minimize the burden of student debt and improve access to dental care to those in remote areas,” he says.

Ramirez’s outreach efforts and community service extend outside dental care. In 2012, he founded Beautiful Smiles, where he remains the coordinator of outreach programs that provide mentorship, education, dental resources and preventive care to underserved Hispanic women and children in the San Francisco’s Mission District. The ADA Foundation in October awarded Ramirez with the Henry Schein Cares Dr. David Whiston Leadership Award, which “recognizes dentists who have shown potential for leadership in efforts to improve the oral health of the public.”

“It is an honor to have the opportunity to serve as a community role model, inspiring other underrepresented leaders to pursue their dreams of becoming an oral health provider,” Ramirez says. “As the ethnic landscape in our country changes, it is crucial for the dental profession to keep up. Through collaboration, diversification and strong leadership, we can dream big together and eliminate barriers to care."

The CDA Foundation’s Student Loan Repayment Grant provides an annual award of up to $35,000 (for a maximum of $105,000 over three years) to assist a selected recently graduated dentist with repayment of education loans in exchange for the recipient’s commitment to care for the underserved. Since 2002, the program has helped enable 17 dentists to embrace their dream of working in public health. The application period opens each May.

Webb Family Grant winner will treat underserved special-needs population

Growing up with a younger brother with severe autism, Andrew Nguyen, DDS, winner of the CDA Foundation’s 2017 Webb Family Grant, says he “learned a lot about the struggles of finding competent health care and dental care providers to treat special-needs patients.” He went on to serve this population after graduating in 2014 from the University of Detroit Mercy, School of Dentistry, and completing his general practice residency at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, a program in Los Angeles County that emphasizes special-needs dentistry. There he learned to responsibly manage preoperative and postoperative patients.

Today, Dr. Nguyen can be found working as a full-time general dentist at King Chavez Health Center in San Diego, where he says the special-needs clinic in conjunction with San Diego Regional Center provides dental care for approximately 3,000 patients with disabilities annually.

“Patients with spinal cord injuries, craniofacial anomalies, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, post-brain injury and neurologic disorders have limited access to dental care in the community and elsewhere due to their disabilities,” says Nguyen, who acknowledges that patients at King Chavez Health Center are currently seen on an outpatient basis. “Many of these patients are not manageable in the special-needs clinic.” San Diego County is home to an estimated 172,390 people with a disability who are under age 65. He says the Webb Family Grant award will help him continue to treat the county’s underserved adult special-needs population.

Among other community service commitments, Nguyen provided dental screenings and constructed mouth guards for athletes with special needs for the Special Olympics’ Special Smiles program and completed a United States Naval Service mission in 2010 in Vietnam and Cambodia, where he worked as a translator for internal medicine, optometry, pharmacy, dental and ophthalmology and as a civil assistant in the dental department.

And beyond continuing to care for special-needs patients in the San Diego clinic, Nguyen has other plans. “A future career goal is to obtain hospital privileges in order to treat patients in the operating room who would otherwise not be able to obtain dental care,” he says.

The Webb Family Grant provides an annual award of $5,000 toward education expenses for the individual who is selected runner-up for the Foundation’s Student Loan Repayment Grant.

Learn more about the CDA Foundation’s Student Loan Repayment Grant and Webb Family Grant and see a list of past recipients at cdafoundation.org/grants-awards.

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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.