The Webbs: A legacy of humanitarianism

California dentists provide a tremendous amount of pro bono work to those who experience barriers to care. In fact, dentists across the state provide oral health care services worth an estimated $388 million each year ($15,668 per dentist). This profile features two individuals who exemplify the giving nature of dentists.

Russ Webb, DDS, and Kathi Webb have both been on a path of compassion through volunteerism as far back as their college days.

The couple met at the UCLA School of Dentistry, Russ on his way to becoming an oral surgeon and Kathi in the dental assistant oral pathology program. One of their first “dates” was volunteering at a free dental clinic in the San Joaquin Valley providing care for migrant farm workers. The two spent one weekend every month together working at the mobile clinic that was a joint effort between the UCLA School of Dentistry and the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.

Now married for more than 30 years, Russ and Kathi have continued their dedication to organized dentistry with a high level of commitment to the CDA Foundation in the form of donations and volunteering.

“Helping others is a passion we have had since the beginning of our careers,” Kathi said.

Russ said volunteerism is a family tradition.

“It’s in our family history to give back when we can. My dad started an endowment at UCLA — the Irving and Betty Webb Endowment. My parents were both really involved in volunteering. So I guess it was a family ideal to give back whenever you could,” said Webb, who was an Olympic medalist in water polo and served in the U.S. Navy before becoming a dentist.

Russ and Kathi married in 1980; he began his work as an oral surgeon as a partner at a practice in Upland. Kathi was a stay-at-home mom for 11 years with their two daughters Tiana and Leahe. As the years passed, Russ began to get more involved in organized dentistry. In the ‘80s, he became a CDA delegate through the Tri-County Dental Society and jumped into a CDA leadership role in the ‘90s. Both Russ and Kathi were busy volunteering at dental clinics throughout the state during this time frame. Kathi also joined the CDA Dental Alliance, an organization designed for spouses of dentists to run oral health educational programs and become involved in grass roots activities such as visiting legislators to promote the importance of oral health programs.

CDA Foundation Chair Don Rollofson, DMD, says the Webbs are great role models for the profession.

“Russ and Kathi are the consummate examples and mentors for giving back and helping those who can never repay them,” Rollofson said. “Their model of humanitarian effort is infectious and has driven many around them to do more for others than they ever would have done on their own. Volunteering and working beside them has been one of the greatest honors in my life.”

The couple has worked side by side for a long time now, both in volunteer and practice settings. After 10 years of practicing as a partner, Webb purchased his own practice in Upland, and Kathi joined him as the office manager, continuing the bond the two of them share through dentistry.

The two moved to Sacramento in 2005 after Webb was elected CDA president. During his time as president, he focused on the importance of leadership skills and bringing dentists together toward common goals. He helped develop the CDA Leadership Education Conference, which is an annual event that teaches leadership skills to current and potential leaders in organized dentistry. He has continued to work part time as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Sacramento.

At the end of 2011, Russ and Kathi took on a new leadership role themselves, as they became key volunteers in the CDA Cares program. CDA Cares is a CDA Foundation program that allows volunteer dentists, with the assistance of other dental professionals, 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 and a strong state infrastructure, including a state dental director who can develop programs to improve the oral health of Californians.

When the Webbs found out that the CDA Foundation, of which they are founding contributors, was starting this program, they knew they had to get involved.

“In every community there are a lot of people who aren’t able to afford dental care. There is need up and down the state,” Kathi said. “Dentists do give back a lot of their time already in their practices, but CDA Cares takes the scheduling and setup out of the equation for dentists; all they have to do is show up and work.”

In November 2011, as part of a CDA delegation headed by Andy Soderstrom, DDS, the Webbs attended the Oregon Mission of Mercy clinic, which is run by the Oregon Dental Association, to glean ideas and tips to bring back and implement at the CDA Foundation’s first CDA Cares event in Modesto in May 2012.

“On that trip, the CDA group got some great ideas about how volunteers can escort patients so there aren’t people wandering throughout the clinic floor,” Russ said. “It adds a calmness and that’s turned out to be universal throughout CDA Cares now — everyone seems to know where they are going.”

All three CDA Cares programs (Modesto, Sacramento and San Jose) have run smoothly thanks to the help of the Webbs and thousands of other volunteers. Russ served as the chair of the CDA Cares Sacramento program in August 2012, and both he and Kathi are on the CDA Cares Steering Committee for the San Diego event.

“They have played such an integral part in the success of CDA Cares. Russ did a tremendous job making the Sacramento program run with such fluidity,” Rollofson said. “Every volunteer seemed to know exactly what their job was and where they needed to be.”

And Russ has no problem filling gaps where needed.

“At one point in Sacramento, oral surgery was backed up and he jumped right in and started extracting teeth, even though he was responsible for overseeing the entire clinic,” Rollofson said.

In situations like this, Kathi knows the ways of CDA Cares enough that she can step in and oversee operations for her husband.

“I like to have some hands-on time and it’s very comforting to know that she understands the workings of the clinics enough to be able to cover me when I am extracting teeth,” Russ said. “She understands the whole layout as well as I do.”

Kathi plays an integral part in keeping CDA Cares organized and running on all cylinders.

Among the three CDA Cares events that have taken place, 5,878 patients have received $4.4 million in care. Webb says the program shines a positive spotlight on the pro bono work that dentists in California do and also encourages the legislature to provide more funding for oral health programs.

“We can now go to the legislature and say we are helping provide care to underserved populations, but we can’t do it by ourselves and this is not a system of care — we need help from the state; it’s too big of an issue,” Webb said. “We need to all be working together so we can get this done.”

It’s programs like CDA Cares and the Student Loan Repayment Grant, which provides up to $105,000 over three years toward repayment of student loans in exchange for a commitment to care for underserved individuals, that make the Webbs so motivated to be a part of the CDA Foundation.

“The community gives us the privilege of practicing dentistry and allows us to practice the way we like to. Because of that privilege, I feel like it is part of my responsibility to give back,” Russ said. “The CDA Foundation is how we give back and I would encourage more of our members to donate time and money to its programs; I think it’s the best thing CDA does.”

Kathi has been busy lately not only helping with the CDA Cares program, but also volunteering at The Gathering Inn, a homeless shelter in Placer County that works to get people back on their feet and working again.

From college to today, the Webbs have never stopped giving back, and it appears their volunteer spirit has rubbed off on the next generation — both of their daughters and their son-in-law Sean Rockwell, DDS, have all volunteered at CDA Cares.

For more information on the work of the CDA Foundation and to get involved, visit cdafoundation.org.