VALLEJO — Vallejo resident Joann Ramirez came to a regional, free dental clinic at the Solano County Fairgrounds on Friday with a mouthful of pain.
She described her teeth as “very sensitive.” She needed fillings.
By about 7:30 a.m., Ramirez sat in a card table chair inside a section of the exhibition hall designated as a waiting area. In front of her she could see her destination. What seemed like a sea of dentists and assistants in blue gowns worked on patients.
Ramirez said she was well on her way to a wonderful, new, painless smile. Just the thought brought a smile to her face even before the treatment.
The California Dental Association and California Dental Association Foundation sponsored the CDA Cares event. The event will continue and conclude Saturday, with clinic doors opening at 5:30 a.m. No identification is required.
It’s a simple idea that requires plenty of preparation and resources: People simply show up and get free dental care. About 400 dentists, 400 dental professionals and 900 or so other volunteers will come to the fairgrounds over the two days to help them.
An estimated 10 million Californians have trouble getting dental care. Reasons range from unemployment to no insurance to lack of transportation to lack of oral health education, according to the California Dental Association.
CDA Cares two-day clinics at other locations have drawn about 2,000 people, with some coming a day early to camp out so they can be certain of getting in.
The Solano County clinic had its early birds. Vallejo resident Levardie Davis arrived at about 9 a.m. Thursday. She lined up with about 10 other people.
Davis hadn’t been to a dentist in about three years, since her insurance ran out. She had painful teeth, some loose. She kept cutting her tongue on a broken tooth.
She and the rest were prepared to camp out. Instead, the clinic checked them in that day at about 2 p.m., in effect reserving them a place in line.
“We didn’t have to spend the night, but we had tents, blankets and stuff,” Davis said.
Patients started their visits in McCormack Hall. That’s where they had their teeth looked at initially and had X-rays taken, basically getting screened before heading to the exhibition hall for treatment.
Many of the patients coming to the clinics have missing teeth, said James Stephens, president of the California Dental Association and a Palo Alto dentist. That can discourage them from finding work, especially if they’re seeking a job in the service sector, he said.
“If you can’t smile and feel good about it, it’s hard to do it,” Stephens said.
He talked of a man who had only three teeth. The clinic would give him a stay plate, which is a plastic, partial denture.
“We’re going to give him a smile,” Stephens said. “You can’t do that for everybody, but when you can, it’s a real gift.”
But the clinic in a few hours can’t solve all dental problems for patients who may not have seen a dentist in years.
“We’re trying to focus on their most pressing need: pain and infection,” Stephens said.
As the clinic started Friday morning, a pounding rain hit the fairgrounds, the type that can drench a person in a matter of seconds. A stream of brown water ran through the parking lot. Volunteers heading to their posts on the fairgrounds streets jumped over puddles.
But rain didn’t stop people from coming to the clinic. If a smile makes a good umbrella, as the old song says, a lot of them left better equipped to handle the wet.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.