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East Bay Stand Down No. 1 in dentistry: Homeless, needy, disabled veterans get care and social services

Pleasanton, Calif.—A relief effort that strives to get homeless veterans off the streets continues to grow in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"We can offer much more dental care and do more sophisticated care when we can staff two operatories with dentists on-site and a number of volunteers off-site," Dr. John Jow, prosthodontist and Department of Veterans Administration-Northern California Health Care System dental services chief, said of the East Bay Stand Down, held Aug. 10-12 at the Alameda County Fairgrounds.

Volunteer participation was up at the biennial event, too, with two donated mobile units, 20 dentist volunteers working out of their private practices, four labs donating services and two VAs coordinating care.

"We saw 150 patients this time, which is almost twice as many as the last Stand Down," said Dr. Jow, who also conducts Stand Downs in Sacramento and Dixon, Calif.

Stand Down describes the practice of removing combat troops from the field and taking care of their basic needs in a safe area. The events provide shelter to homeless, needy and disabled veterans who are provided with medical, legal and social services. Dr. Jow estimates that about 200,000 U.S. veterans are homeless.

The California Dental Association Foundation provided a mobile dental van to the East Bay Stand Down, and community funds financed a second mobile unit.

Southern Alameda County Dental Society and CDA came through with a cadre of volunteers. The Alliances of the CDA and SACDS—led by Sue Kuehn, dental health chair of the Alliance of the ADA, and Terry Alvarez—had key roles in coordinating on- and off-site volunteers and managing the appointment schedule.

"Everything was a step up," said Dr. Jow. "Enthusiastic volunteers, and even the setting at the Alameda County Fairgrounds gave us some lawn space, which was a little nicer for an operatory setting than the dirt field used at previous events.

"People hear about it and want to volunteer," he continued. "And now, people have started calling me and asking for help setting these up. There is a lot of demand, and we’re the only Stand Down that does dentistry on site."

Denver Mills, director of the event's executive board, told the Contra Costa Times that the East Bay Stand Down "is the most comprehensive Stand Down in the nation."

Even so, Dr. Jow acknowledged the limitations on the volunteers' ability to provide necessary care.

"There's just no end in sight for the need, not when there's someone walking around with 22 decayed teeth," he said, referring to one of the patients. "Doing this over a three-day period isn't much, but it's the best we can do. We'd like to bring them back for multiple visits but that isn't practical with this patient population."

Included among diagnoses this year were one fractured jaw and a case of oral cancer, but the overwhelming majority were routine extractions. Resin partials and dentures were provided, too, in limited quantities.

"I had patients thank me for treating them previously," said Dr. Jow. "We also saw more female veterans, and wives of veterans, this time. There were about 16 female veterans, and younger patients in the 30- to 40-year-old range."

Dr. Jow was a member of the first class of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership. Making the dental component a larger, better-organized contribution to Stand Down was his Institute leadership project.

"The Institute for Diversity in Leadership helped me reach out to people," he said. "I had coordinated activities for Stand Down for years but I was in a shell. Now I'm not hesitant to interact with the CDA or the professional community. You see what you're capable of accomplishing when you work with these other groups to make it happen."