With high unemployment, Kern County welcomes volunteer dentists

Having retired in April after 49 years in private practice as a general dentist, Robert Reed, DDS, says, “I now have a lot more time to work on CDA Cares!” As chair of the Bakersfield CDA Cares Local Arrangements Committee, Reed’s job is to help ensure that the next installment of the volunteer dental program, which comes to the Kern County Fairgrounds Oct. 6-7, is successful. This means overseeing a committee that helps recruit volunteers from the dental profession and general community, raises funds, identifies and secures pharmaceuticals and local dental lab equipment and much more over a 12- to 14-month period before the event.

Reed, who graduated from the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of the University of Southern California in 1968, is no stranger to educational, organizational and advocacy work. While serving in the U.S. Army in Thailand in 1970, he started a dental civic action program that operated for about a year. He and his counterpart, a lieutenant colonel in the Thai Army, would visit a small village each week where they educated students in the morning, offered free toothbrushes and toothpaste and provided dental treatments to whomever showed up in the afternoon. “It was sort of like Cares,” Reed says.

Upon returning from Southeast Asia in 1971, Reed joined the Kern County Dental Society, serving as its president in 2005 then as a trustee from 2006 to 2012. Additionally, he served on the CDA Foundation Board from 2011 through March of this year. “Dentistry is my passion!” Reed says.

CDA recently spoke with Reed about his past experience with CDA Cares, preparations for CDA Cares Bakersfield and the high need for this event in Kern County. 

How have you participated in past CDA Cares events? What did you learn from these events — particularly as it might help you organize CDA Cares Bakersfield?

I attended the first CDA Cares in Modesto in 2012 followed by the events in Pomona in 2014 and Fresno in 2015. I loved working those clinics and being able to do just the dentistry I was trained to do and not have to worry about staff, etc. I was so impressed by the organization of these clinics … even at that first one in Modesto. I saw really smooth, efficient utilization of all assets to make the Cares event an overwhelming success. There is a really high bar we in Kern County have to meet, but I am sure we will do so with all the help we are getting from CDA and our local volunteers.

Can you speak a bit about the particular need for this event in Kern County?

Kern County currently has an unemployment rate of about 9 percent, which is much higher than California’s unemployment rate. We have a huge underserved population in Kern County, especially as the agriculture and oil industries have taken a huge hit over the past 10 years. Drought and slowdown in oil have put a lot of our population out of work, so the dental need is huge. I was always able to tell when the economy was getting bad as the number of emergencies always increased, and over the past 10 years they have increased a lot.

Tell us about your recent efforts to recruit volunteers and why having a sufficient number of volunteers is important.

The Cares clinic in Kern County is going to require a lot of volunteers as our need is very significant. The only thing limiting the amount of dentistry that will be done will be the number of volunteers we get, so we are counting on getting many volunteers to provide as much dental care as possible. We are working on recruiting not only local volunteers but volunteers from all over California and especially Southern California, because we really are a Southern California community. I am confident we will get volunteers from the Central Valley because we are sort of like family … we live in our own little world here.

Would you like to say anything else that would interest volunteers or would-be volunteers?

KCDS dentists have tried to support all CDA Cares events, so we hope as many CDA members, staff and family come to Kern County in October for our event. Our facilities are great and we are doing everything we can to make our volunteers comfortable, such as providing a special building for them. Of course, food and drink will be provided at the event but volunteers will also have an opportunity to eat foods not common in California. Basque food is something everyone should try and we have many very good Basque restaurants to choose from. We also have the foods common to California, so whatever you want, we have it!

Three additional facts about Robert Reed, DDS:

  • He donated a day at the Willow Springs International Raceway for the first Secret Lives of Dentists Silent Auction in 2015.
  • He co-founded the Annual Kern County Dental Society Gala, which is a fundraising event that began four years ago in an effort to bring CDA Cares to Bakersfield.
  • He raced sports cars from 1970 to the mid-1990s.

In addition to providing dental services at no charge to Californians who experience barriers to care, CDA Cares, the CDA Foundation's volunteer dental program, educates the public and policymakers about the importance of good oral health and the need for an adequately funded dental safety net, which includes a well-functioning Denti-Cal program. Dental volunteers help relieve pain and infection by offering extractions, fillings, limited root canals and cleanings. Dentists also provide temporary partial dentures. At the San Mateo event in April, volunteer dentists provided nearly $1.6 million in charitable dental services to 1,973 people.

Volunteer dentists and dental professionals are needed in all areas at CDA Cares Bakersfield, including restorative, numbing, pediatric, triage and routing. Community volunteers are needed to assist with registration, setup, data entry, escorting patients, language translation and more.

Volunteer for CDA Cares Bakersfield, see the volunteer FAQs or learn more about the Foundation.

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Retired dentist Bob Chiurazzi, DDS, and his daughter Heather Chiurazzi, a first-year dental student at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry, volunteer side by side at CDA Cares and have missed volunteering just once since CDA Cares held its first event in Modesto in 2012. The pair looks forward to working together again in the oral surgery department at CDA Cares Bakersfield, Oct. 6–7.

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.