Childhood experiences motivate CDA Foundation’s 2021 grant recipients to serve

January 18, 2022

The CDA Foundation encourages the important work of dentistry in community and public health by awarding grants to recent dental school/specialty graduates. These grants are designed to offset the financial burden of student debt by repaying an awardee's educational loan of up to $50,000 per year for a maximum of $250,000 over five years in exchange for a commitment to care for the underserved. The two recipients of the 2021 grants are Sogole Tabatabaiepur, DDS, and Jose Carrasco Sandoval, DDS.

Trilingual Dr. Sogole Tabatabaiepur is passionate about community health and dentistry

Dr. Tabatabaiepur was born to immigrant parents and grew up with an appreciation of her family’s cultural customs and a genuine interest in learning about other cultures. She experienced firsthand the challenges of adapting and adjusting to new cultural norms as an immigrant family. “My parents were ridiculed for their accents. I was made fun of for eating strange ethnic foods for lunch,” Tabatabaiepur recalls.

She credits these childhood experiences to helping her develop awareness and empathy. “I have deep empathy for those who are often outcast from society and respect the struggles of immigrants who made huge sacrifices to uproot their lives for the betterment of future generations.”

Preparing for the work she does now within the community began early for Tabatabaiepur, who as an elementary student took Spanish classes and attended Persian school.

“These languages have allowed me to serve a diverse population of Iranian and Hispanic patients,” Tabatabaiepur explains. “Language and culture are important to me because they enable me to connect with my patients and help them feel comfortable and understood.”

Tabatabaiepur attended UCLA School of Dentistry and is a general dentist providing care to Medicaid and low-income patients of all ages in Solano County. As a student living on the border of Berkeley and Oakland, she was exposed to the vast needs of the homeless population living in that area. Volunteering with Berkeley Free Clinic’s dental section and CDA Cares gave her a vision of how she wanted to serve in the community as a future dentist.

In her current role as provider at La Clinica Vallejo and Pittsburg, Tabatabaiepur’s goal is to learn the inner workings of the community clinic system to find innovative ways to improve care delivery and remove barriers in oral health access.

Her goals for the future include earning a Master of Public Health degree and serving as a director of a community clinic. She says, “I aim to develop a more sustainable model of community care that allows underserved patients more timely and specialized high-quality oral health care, incorporating ideas such as medical-dental integration and incentives for health maintenance.”

Dr. Carrasco’s childhood experiences shaped his commitment to underserved populations

“I am a proud undocumented, bilingual, first-generation Latino dentist,” Dr. Carrasco proclaims. Growing up in the agricultural town of Napa, California, access to medical and dental services was limited for his low-income, uninsured and undocumented family.

As a youth, Carrasco saw how grassroots efforts from Latino organizers came together to establish a community clinic system to address the health and dental needs of their community. Their efforts made a lasting impression on him. “My volunteer work and professional journey is a reflection of how purpose-driven I am,” Carrasco acknowledges. “I believe quality dental care is a right that needs to be accessible in order to continuously improve quality of life for all, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Carrasco attended UCSF School of Dentistry and is now a general dentist in Los Angeles working primarily with pediatric Denti-Cal patients at AltaMed dental services.

“My goal is to continue serving this demographic because I see the need for dental care access amongst our pediatric Denti-Cal population,” he says. “My clinic site holds a special place in our Los Angeles community because it is a dental home for many Denti-Cal patients that are referred from other clinics due to a lack of providers that serve pediatric patients.”

Both his short- and long-term career goals are centered around the work he is doing with AltaMed. In the future, Carrasco hopes to advance to a directorial position there, explaining that, “Creating sustainable and quality dental care for a community happens through constant advocacy from dental directors that are dedicated to the mission of organizations that address health disparities. I am committed to community dentistry … because I am passionate about inclusion of dental care in underserved communities as a form of social justice.”

Carrasco is proud of his identity and story and shares them with his patients with the hopes of empowering them. “Living authentically, celebrating my identity and working and living in diverse spaces allows me to embrace inclusion of so many other identities,” he explains.

A growing list of community-focused recipients

Tabatabaiepur and Carrasco are now part of a growing list of grant recipients providing care to underserved communities. The Foundation’s Student Loan Repayment Grant has been awarded annually since 2002. Since that time, the program has enabled more than 20 dentists to pursue their passion for working in public health.

Altogether these grant-funded dentists have helped nearly 100,000 patients and provided more than $25 million in dental services to individuals who experience barriers to care. A large majority of recipient dentists have remained not only in public health but also in the communities where they first served.

Learn more about the Foundation’s Student Loan Repayment Grant and see a list of past recipients.


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