No-Cost Dental Event Highlights Care Gap

Thousands of people lined up at the county fairgrounds in Sacramento over the weekend to get no-cost dental care. The event at Cal Expo provided fillings, dentures and oral surgery to more than 2,000 people, event organizers said.

The grand totals, over the two days:

  • 2,080 patients seen by dentists;
  • Performance of 13,651 procedures for those people;
  • Denture work for 377 people, including full or partial dentures and denture repair;
  • A volunteer army of 1,774 helped out; and
  • Roughly $2 million worth of care provided.

This is the seventh “CDA Cares” event since 2012. The California Dental Association staged similar events in Modesto, Pomona, San Diego, San Jose and Vallejo. That’s more than $11.2 million in dental services to 13,981 patients in a little more than three years, according to CDA officials.

“I got here at 7 o’clock last night. Slept outside in line,” said Rhonda Morris of Sacramento on the first day of the event. “There’s always a lot of people. It gets crowded real fast. I wanted to get here early.”

Morris was one of several hundred who spent the night outside before the event started. During the first day, many hundred more queued up in the 80-degree Sacramento sun to wait their turn to get into the Expo Center and into a dentist’s chair.

Morris attended a CDA-sponsored event in 2012, as well. Last time, she said, she got upper dentures in a day. This time, she’s going for lowers. With all the extractions necessary to put in dentures, she said. After this day there won’t be any more dental work on her horizon.

“I’d come back if I had more teeth,” she said with a laugh. “Maybe next year I’ll come back and volunteer and help them.”

According to Jim Stephens, past president of the CDA and one of the organizers of this year’s event, many of the people who come to the dental care event actually may have coverage, sometimes limited, under Medi-Cal.

“Coverage and access are two different things,” Stephens said.

It can be difficult to find a dentist who accepts Denti-Cal patients, because the reimbursement rates are too low for dentists to participate, he said.

“Fees have been cut in that program so much,” Stephens said, “they just aren’t enough to create a viable provider network.”

That story seemed to be borne out by Morris. “I can’t afford dental on my own,” she said. “I have Medi-Cal, but it takes months to get in. You make a dental appointment, and you maybe get X-rays. And then you have to make an appointment for months away again.”

Morris said, given how complicated her dental care needs are, it would’ve taken her years to get the services she received in a day at the dental fair.

“There is so much unmet need here,” said George Maranon, an oral and maxillary surgeon from Encino, who traveled from Southern California to volunteer.

“The first time I came out [for this event], it was so moving, I had to come out for every event,” he said. “I will see patients here in so much pain. And [when it’s over] some of them say it’s the first time they’ve been able to smile.”

State Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) was one of several legislators who stopped by the event.

“It’s impressive here,” Pan said. This is an amazing effort.”

And an amazing statement about Denti-Cal’s effectiveness, he said.

“At the same time, it’s also an embarrassment that here in California we need to do this,” Pan said.

“We are not able to provide access to care through programs like Denti-Cal and others for their dental needs,” he said. “Dentists have said it was cheaper to volunteer, to see patients for free in their practices, than it was to accept Denti-Cal. So we clearly have a lot of work to do. We need to more … to get people access to dental care.”

Related Topics

Capitol Desk Medi-Cal