Volunteers, community changed by CDA Cares San Mateo

As the early morning sun slipped through the fog hovering over San Francisco Bay on April 22, thousands of dental professionals and community members began slipping into the San Mateo Event Center for CDA Cares, the Foundation’s biannual volunteer dental program. Some were there to volunteer their time and expertise, while others lined up at the gate to be escorted inside for dental services offered at no charge. By the end of the two-day event, charitable dental services totaling nearly $1.6 million were provided to 1,973 people, including 12,063 procedures, such as fillings, extractions and cleanings.

Additionally, 243 complete and partial dentures and repairs were provided to Californians who experience barriers to care, such as Michael, who had been without teeth for more than 12 years. He received full upper and lower dentures at CDA Cares San Mateo and was thrilled to show off his new smile to family and friends.

“This is the first time that my grandchildren will be able to see me smile and see teeth, which will help me to teach them proper dental hygiene,” said Michael, who planned to Facetime with the grandkids when he left the event and looked forward to eating something other than “soft food.” Michael also expressed his appreciation for CDA Cares. “This has been one of the most impactful experiences I’ve ever had,” he said. “I saw the care and the time (the dental professionals) took,” said Michael’s wife Althea, who watched the procedure from a nearby waiting area. “It doesn’t matter if it’s two hours or 20 hours, for us it was just worth it,” she added.

While CDA Cares restores smiles for people like Michael, it also educates the public and policymakers about the importance of good oral health and the need for an adequately funded dental safety net. The state’s Denti-Cal program, which is chronically underfunded, leaves many without access to dental care. Last November, voters approved Proposition 56, which placed a $2 tax on tobacco products, with the intent to improve access to care for 14.3 million Californians served by Medi-Cal. However, the current budget proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown uses the tobacco tax funding to backfill a cut to the state’s general fund contribution to the program.  

“CDA is committed to ensure that funds generated from the state’s new tobacco tax are spent as voters intended, which would improve access to care and allow more providers to participate in the program,” said CDA President Clelan Ehrler, DDS, MS.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who toured the event, expressed his support of CDA’s efforts with Proposition 56. “Imagine not having insurance; imagine relying on the state and the federal government in their largess, and at the end of the day, we don’t provide the reimbursement rates to the doctors,” said Newsom in an interview with a TV station. “We don’t provide enough support for simple basic dental care. As an elected official, I think about Prop. 56 a little differently. I think about the dental care issues profoundly differently. I think about what’s at stake if we maintain the status quo, which is just not acceptable. We’ve got to step up our game.”

Newsom also conveyed his admiration for CDA Cares and the people who donate their time and skills at the event. “This is my second time visiting this extraordinary event,” he said. “You are reminded of the human element when you come to something like this. You meet the folks whose lives literally are changing because of the contribution of the membership here and folks who have traveled from all over the state to volunteer their time to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Two of those volunteers are retired dentist Bob Chiurazzi, DDS, and his daughter Heather, a first-year dental student at the UCLA School of Dentistry. The father-daughter duo have volunteered at more than 10 CDA Cares, working side by side in oral surgery. Heather Chiurazzi said attending dental school has helped her be a better assistant to her dad and given her a better idea of “why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Their work at CDA Cares has undoubtedly helped to improve the quality of life and oral health of people they’ve provided care to, but volunteering has also had a personal impact on the pair. “It’s bringing us closer as a family,” said Bob Chiurazzi, who made a promise to continue volunteering at CDA Cares until his daughter graduates from dental school in 2020.

The next CDA Cares will be held Oct. 6-7 in Bakersfield.

For more information, visit cdafoundation.org/cdacares. Learn more about Michael’s, the Chiurazzis’ and other individuals’ stories on CDA’s YouTube channel or on the CDA Cares Facebook page at facebook.com/cdacares.

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