Dentists bring smiles for the holidays in Del Mar

Doctors and assistants provide free dental care Dec. 7 at a clinic sponsored by the California Dental Association Foundation at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. (Photo by Helen Hawes)

Helen Hawes

Doctors and assistants provide free dental care Dec. 7 at a clinic sponsored by the California Dental Association Foundation at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. (Photo by Helen Hawes)

Helen Hawes

Helen Hawes

People waited in a line five lanes wide inside a big white tent at the Del Mar Fairgrounds recently for free dental care at a giant clinic sponsored by the California Dental Association Foundation.

Most looked like any North County neighbors even though some patients came from as far away as Modesto. Families, friends and college students all waited together in small groups. Those who came alone quickly made acquaintance with others in line. One young man passed the time strumming his guitar.

The mood was upbeat Dec. 7 in spite of the blustery wet and chilly weather. Cheers went up from the crowd each time a segment of the group went inside the exhibit hall for treatment.

Augie “Moondoggie” Alvarez sells t-shirts and artwork through his business, Moondoggie Designs, at the Encinitas Seaside Bazaar. He heard about the clinic on the news, then looked it up online to ensure it was real and double checked the date.

“The last time I was able to afford a dentist was before the economy crashed in 2008,” he said.

Back then, he was going to his dentist regularly for root canals and crowns. But he said the effort to keep his house and stay in business for the past several years has taken all his resources.

He was almost happy to queue for more than three hours, waiting to be seen.

“It’s like waiting in line for the Matterhorn,” he said.

Dr. James Stephens is the president of the California Dental Association. He said the CDA started the clinics a couple years ago because of the huge need in California, not only because the economy had forced many to forgo dental care but also because legislators had cut adult Denti-Cal.

So he invited elected officials to come see the clinic.

“It gave us the opportunity to help people and at the same time highlight the need to the decision-makers,” he said.

He added that one major solution to getting funds is to have a dental director appointed for the state of California who would be responsible for creating a state health plan. Federal grants are already available, but without a dental director, California isn’t eligible to apply.

Aside from the philanthropic and legislative reasons for the event, Stephens said the doctors also volunteer simply because they enjoy it.

“Our members look at this as a member benefit; they fill up the spots so quickly that within a couple of weeks, all of them are taken,” Stephens said.

Dr. Glenn Kaneda and his assistant, Roselle Nottage, flew in from the town of Kailua on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Licensed to practice in both states, Kaneda came at his own expense.

“We have clinics at home, but we only get to advise patients,” he said.

Frustrated by not being able to take care of patients in need, he said that when he heard of this clinic, he knew right away that he wanted to participate.

Patients, meanwhile, seemed just as happy to be there as the dentists.

Kari Rhoades, 27, of La Mesa, came with her mother and grandmother. She said her family hadn’t had their teeth checked in years, mostly because they were afraid of the dentist. They all needed work done and decided to do it together.

As they entered the clinic, they were led through multiple stations. Ushering them along was an army of smiling volunteers in “CDA cares” t-shirts.

Volunteer Jeffrey Cornwell found out about the event through an email from a church friend and decided to help out.

“Many of us are LDS,” he said, referring to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

First, patients were guided to intake, where charts were started with basic information. Next, there was education, where some patients were relieved to find that 80 percent of people have gingivitis. They also learned that oral health is crucial to total body health.

Then they were off to the medical screen section, where vitals, including blood sugar and cholesterol levels, were taken.

Next, patients were sent to triage, where dentists decided the course of treatment: cleanings, fillings, extractions or dentures. The x-ray station was followed by the Novocaine section. Finally, patients were off to their prescribed treatment. Before leaving, they received final instructions and gave a quick exit interview.

According to the CDA Foundation website, 1,706 volunteers provided more than 12,518 dental procedures for 2,203 patients for a total of $1.6 million in dental services.

But on a personal level, the impact was even greater.

“This is the best Christmas present I could ask for; I’ve had pain for years,” patient Moondoggie Alvarez said.

The next clinic will be in the Northern California city of Vallejo, in April, followed by one in the Southern California city of Pomona, in November. For more information, go to www.cdafoundation.org.

Helen Hawes is a North County freelance writer