New CDA Foundation chair dedicated to serving the public

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.

Creasey enrolled in the UCSF School of Dentistry in 1997 after spending 14 years as a hygienist. She graduated in 2001 and has since worked as a dentist in the practice where she used to serve as a hygienist. Learning about Caries Management by Risk Assessment (CAMBRA) at UCSF, Creasey began implementing the strategy into the practice. CAMBRA is a research-based, systematic approach to integrate caries risk assessment as a centerpiece of the dental practice. CAMBRA aims to diagnose and prevent caries through the process of assessing a patient's risk for caries by examining various health and lifestyle factors as part of their regular dental checkups. She also began making presentations to school nurses in the area about early childhood caries and worked with a local dental program to connect low-income pregnant women with federally qualified health centers so they could receive oral health care during pregnancy.

"One of my favorite roles in life is to find ways to inspire and help people to do good things," Creasey said.

Having served as the chair of the CDA Government Affairs Council and on the Selection Committee for the CDA Foundation's Student Loan Repayment Grant, Creasey will get the chance to do even more good things beginning in January when she takes over as chair of the CDA Foundation. Succeeding outgoing chair, Don Rollofson, DMD, Creasey looks forward to continuing to fulfill her goal of improving the oral health of children and all Californians by helping the CDA Foundation continue its two flagship programs, CDA Cares and the Student Loan Repayment Grant.

Hosted by the CDA Foundation and CDA, the CDA Cares volunteer dental program provides dental services at no charge to Californians of all ages who experience barriers to care. The event 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. With the goal of improving overall health by relieving dental pain and infection, the main services provided at CDA Cares include fillings, extractions, cleanings and oral health education. Since CDA Cares began in 2012, volunteer dentists and dental professionals have provided $13.1 million in dental services to 16,080 people statewide. A total of 12,918 volunteers have made that possible.

Creasey, who has volunteered in the numbing section and has provided legislators with tours of the CDA Cares clinics, said the program is of value not only for the patients who receive care at no charge, but also for the dental profession as a whole.

"I think it is important to shine a light on all the good that the profession does for the public and how much dentists do in their communities," Creasey said. "Volunteerism is at the heart of our profession and most dentists I know, routinely volunteering in their communities, performing school oral health screenings and providing charitable care within their practices. These kind acts usually go unrecognized without any press or media. In a state where improving our safety net requires the awareness of media and policymakers alike, the CDA Cares events highlight both unmet need and the willingness of dentists to engage in solutions. We all see the great news stories of patients who literally regain their smiles, and that is obviously life-changing. But even for patients who receive minor treatment, it is a touch point, one where oral health literacy increases and they learn of dental care resources they can access. That in itself is life-changing as well."

Also helping the public and the profession is the Student Loan Repayment Grant program. Every year, the CDA Foundation awards one new dentist with the grant to help repay his or her dental educational loan. The grant, which provides up to $105,000 over three years in exchange for a commitment to care for the underserved, has not only provided financial support for 16 dentists across the state, it has motivated them to give back to their communities. Creasey served on the selection committee of this grant for several years and encourages other dentists to do the same.

"I think one of the most rewarding volunteer positions I've held was serving on the grant selection committee. You're given the opportunity to read the often touching stories of young dentists who have chosen this profession because they have a heart for giving back," Creasey said.

The 2015 grant recipient is Sonia Relingo, DDS. Relingo graduated from Howard University College of Dentistry in Washington, D.C., in 2013 and followed with a two-year general practice residency at Community Regional Medical Center. She currently is licensed to practice in California and employed at United Health Center in Mendota (Fresno County), providing full-time care. Born and raised in Orosi, Calif., she grew up in the second poorest county in the state and attended a high school with an academic performance index of 1. Despite these challenges, she graduated valedictorian of her high school class and went on to attend college at UC Berkeley where she became a first-generation graduate. Relingo was chosen as the 2015 recipient in part because of her ability to understand cultural diversity and she demonstrates this with each of her patients. She is passionate about promoting oral health education and has made it her personal goal to give back as a public health dentist by providing quality dental care to the underserved for the duration of her career.

"The commitment these young dentists have for serving in their communities is impressive," Creasey said. "The richness of their past volunteer experience is especially noteworthy because they have done so much, often in the face of adversity. It is never an easy choice selecting just one."

While only one dentist per year receives the Student Loan Repayment Grant, the runner-up is eligible for the Webb Family Grant. The Webb Family Grant is an annual award of up to $5,000 toward educational expenses for an eligible individual who has applied to, meets all of the criteria of, and is selected as the runner-up for the Student Loan Repayment Grant.

It is programs like these that Creasey has always believed in as a dental hygienist and then as a dentist -- the programs that uplift the profession and help the public at the same time.

"I think it is a privilege for dentists to participate in this work and the CDA Foundation staff makes it easy for dentists to come alongside and make a real difference. When we reach out to these often marginalized communities we get a deep sense of purpose in return," Creasey said. "It clearly makes my heart feel good and I think that's why so many other dentists are committed to being friends and supporters of the CDA Foundation."

For more information on the CDA Foundation, visit cdafoundation.org.

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