CDA Cares to help struggling populations in Ventura

When most people hear Ventura County they think of an upper socioeconomic group, but there are still large, underserved populations struggling to receive proper oral health services in that area. Cuts to Medicaid and Denti-Cal have had a negative effect on that population when it comes to health care, particularly oral health care.

CDA Foundation Chair Jean Creasey, DDS, has discussed the need with several dentists who practice in the area.

"Dentists who work in Ventura County have told me that although the demographics of Ventura County reflect a high average yearly income, the county has a very high population of underserved who lack access to dental care and suffer higher rates of unmet dental disease," Creasey said.

More specifically, according to Ventura County Supervisor Kathy Long, 30 percent of the families in Ventura County do not have access to dental care.

To help combat this, the CDA Foundation is bringing its CDA Cares dental program to Ventura County on April 16 and 17 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. CDA Cares is a volunteer dental program that provides dental services at no charge to Californians who experience barriers to care. CDA Cares also 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. CDA Cares dental volunteers help relieve pain and infection by offering extractions, fillings, cleanings, oral health education and a limited number of full and partial dentures

Supervisor Long believed the need for such an event was so great in her area that she was one of the Ventura County Supervisors who authorized the contribution of $25,000 from the Ventura County Medical Center for the event.

"When a community engages in an effort like the CDA Cares free dental clinic, we are improving not only the oral health of individual residents, but also the well-being of our entire county," said Long.

Long is encouraging local residents and dental professionals to volunteer at the event.

"Ventura County residents have a unique opportunity this April to donate their time and talents to help our community," Long said. "An outpouring of community support will help restore dignity by creating more smiles."

Mark Lisagor, DDS, is serving as the chair of the local arrangements committee for CDA Cares Ventura and is currently busy recruiting local volunteers for the event. Lisagor, who began practicing in Ventura County in 1977 and has since retired, said that some providers can't participate in the Denti-Cal program and that forces people in pain into the emergency room.

"They get a prescription in the emergency room and get relief for a few days, but the ER is not equipped to solve the dental issue," Lisagor said.

During the two-day CDA Cares events, dentists and dental professionals provide thousands of dental procedures. Volunteer technicians in the clinic's dental lab area work to provide hundreds of full and partial dentures and repairs. In addition, hundreds of community volunteers assist with setup, registration, translation, data entry and escorting patients.

To date, CDA Cares has provided $13.1 million in dental services to 16,080 people statewide. A total of 12,918 volunteers have made that possible. It also wouldn't have been possible without the donations from the program's major sponsors. One of the program's largest sponsors is Henry Schein Dental, which provides health care products and services to office-based dental, medical and animal health practitioners. The company has contributed $50,000 in supplies to CDA Cares Ventura on top of the $50,000 it donated to CDA Cares Fresno last October.

Glenn Showgren, California zone general manager for Henry Schein, said the company strongly believes in "social responsibility" and the adage that Benjamin Franklin coined - doing well by doing good.

"There's a huge gap in care in many areas of the country where there's not enough access to health care for many patients. So we're always grateful any time we can get involved and help corporations or organizations such as CDA Cares give back and assist their members in serving those around them," Showgren said.

Not only is Henry Schein donating resources, but the company also is sending volunteers to the clinic, including Showgren himself. And there is currently a Schein employee serving on the CDA Cares Ventura local arrangements committee who is responsible for securing all of the supplies needed for the program.

"Once volunteers from Schein go to their first CDA Cares event, they are hooked, and then they start asking me where the next one is, can I travel, can I take time off out of my territory to go volunteer? And our answer from corporate is always a resounding, 'Absolutely,'" Showgren said.

To help provide oral health care services to the large number of expected patients in Ventura and at CDA Cares Stockton on Oct. 15-16, the CDA Foundation is currently seeking additional sponsors, as well as volunteer dental and health professionals to sign up for an entire day, rather than a partial day shift. Additionally, community volunteers are needed to assist with registration, clinic setup, data entry, escorting patients, interpreting and much more.

For more information, visit cdafoundation.org/cdacares.

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Ventura County is like most areas in California's coastal valleys - it has a significant agriculture population with many receiving health care through Medicaid and Denti-Cal. Mark Lisagor, DDS, practiced in Camarillo and Oxnard for many years and saw the need firsthand. But due to the low reimbursement rates and bureaucratic challenges of the Denti-Cal program, there aren't enough providers in the area to handle the need and many of those who are in pain end up in the emergency room.

Jean Creasey, DDS, didn't always plan to be a dentist, even long into her adult years. She enjoyed working as a dental hygienist at her husband's practice in Nevada City throughout the 80s and 90s. But she began to notice an alarming trend while volunteering at local school programs in remote areas of Nevada County: a rampant rate of caries in children due to an unmet need. It was then that she decided she wanted to make more of an impact on the lives of children like these and went back to school to become a dentist.

Santos Cortez, DDS, was born in Tulare, Calif., a Central Valley town where his parents were farmworkers who came to the U.S. on a government program. Cortez and his parents lived on the farm where they picked fruit and vegetables. Cortez, who is now a pediatric dentist in Long Beach, recently returned to the Central Valley as a volunteer for CDA Cares Fresno. He couldn’t help but wonder whether he would have sat in the dental chair if CDA Cares had been available when he was a child.