Giving back: Associations magnify dentists' community impact

The heart of dentistry is the unyielding desire to help others. A commitment to improving the oral health of all Californians is why many CDA members entered the profession, and it’s why so many dentists are passionate about giving back to their communities. Whether through volunteer efforts, advocacy or leadership, CDA can help act as a conduit for those looking to make a difference.


One of the most impactful ways to give back to local communities is to volunteer at CDA Cares. Held twice a year, the events shine a light on the good work dentists are doing in communities across California. With the generosity of dental and health professionals and community volunteers, CDA Cares provides no-cost dental treatment to approximately 2,000 individuals at each two-day event. Since its inception, CDA Cares has helped more than 22,000 people by providing more than $18 million in dental services.

DDS candidate Heather Chiurazzi, who will graduate UCLA School of Dentistry in 2020, is a regular CDA Cares volunteer who enjoys the work of giving back.

“I believe that if you are in a position to help others, you should,” she says. “I feel lucky to have found dentistry and to be volunteering my time interacting one-on-one with my community by engaging in an activity that I find fascinating and truly enjoy.”

Chiurazzi says that as a dental student it’s easy to get lost in deadlines and details. But involvement in CDA keeps the ultimate goal of helping others front of mind.

“Not only do events like CDA Cares serve as a constant reminder of what you’re working toward, but the passion and caring from all of the volunteers continually renews my excitement for both dentistry and serving our local communities,” she says.

Public health

Another way new dentists can give back to their communities is through the CDA Foundation’s Student Loan Repayment Grant. Under this program, the CDA Foundation repays the educational loans of select recent graduates — up to $105,000 — who commit to working in underserved communities. Since 2002, the program has enabled 17 dentists to achieve their dream of working in public health, serving nearly 90,000 patients in need by delivering more than $24 million in care.

Upon receiving the grant in 2015, Sonia Relingo, DDS, told CDA that her goal had always been to provide care to those who need it most. She is currently employed at the United Health Center in Mendota, which provides dental care, medical care and community health services in rural San Joaquin County.

“My entire desire for dentistry has been molded by the fact that I would love to provide community dentistry and care for the underserved,” Relingo says.


Participating in grassroots political advocacy efforts is yet another way CDA members can give back, and organized dentistry can facilitate these efforts. Successful advocacy begins at the local level, and many CDA members find that involvement in political activities, such as meeting with legislators to advocate on issues affecting dentistry, can help shape the future of the profession. Members can also support CDA’s political action committee and host or attend fundraisers to help support candidates who will advance oral health care. Best of all, CDA’s dedicated public policy staffers provide grassroots advocacy training and support.


CDA also enables members to lend their time and expertise by serving in association leadership roles. Serving on a CDA council, committee, board or task force is one of the most effective ways to have an impact on the profession in its service to the public.

Karin Irani, DDS, knows firsthand how leadership gives dentists and their profession a voice. As chairwoman of CDA’s Leadership Development Committee, current president of the San Fernando Valley Dental Society and co-founder of Veterans’ Smile Day, her passion for volunteerism is evident.

“The practice of dentistry can get very lonely,” Irani says. “We get used to staying in our practices and don't share much with other people. By serving, we communicate with other dentists. This brings self-fulfillment, new ideas to the association group thinking and diversity in leadership.”

Volunteer leaders participate in dynamic discussions with legislators, insurance companies and other health care providers that drive toward better oral health outcomes for the communities they serve.

Through volunteerism, both in the heart of the community and in association leadership and advocacy roles, CDA member dentists generously give back. And an association’s membership strength and reach can magnify this generosity.

Learn more about the many opportunities to give back. Visit cdafoundation.org and cda.org/leadership to explore volunteer programs.

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One of the greatest draws of professional associations is the chance to be a part of something bigger. When professionals come together, their voices truly become more powerful. Cultivating this collective power is one of CDA’s long-standing goals. In fact, the association has reached the 27,000-member mark and was recognized by the ADA in four key areas.