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Resourceful student clinic wins ADAF Tarrson Award

April 01, 2013

By Jean Williams, ADA News staff

Outreach honored: Dental student coordinators for the Community Dental Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry include, from left, Luis Gutierrez, Chris Kim, Ryan Ray Dela Cruz, Osvaldo Amezcua, Crystal Chang and Pamela Bui. The clinic received the 2012 ADA Foundation Bud Tarrson Award for its mission to treat homeless clients.

Lending a hand: UCSF dental students Osvaldo Amezcua (left) and Pamela Bui, volunteer coordinators at the UCSF Community Dental Clinic, put away supplies after a session at the clinic.
San Francisco—They do a lot with a little. They are the dental students of the University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry—and their small, lean clinic, which treats homeless clients, has been awarded the 2012 ADA Foundation Bud Tarrson Award.

The Community Dental Clinic at UCSF operates on an annual budget of about $3,000 and on material donations from corporations, said Dr. Steven Silverstein, who is the clinic's faculty adviser. About 100 students do the heavy lifting, treating patients under the auspices of volunteer faculty, including providing oral exams, oral hygiene instruction, simple and deep cleaning, basic restorative procedures and monthly endodontic treatments.

“What's great about the clinic is that it's run by the students, and it regenerates enthusiasm every year because they're in charge instead of the faculty,” Dr. Silverstein said. “Winning the award and national recognition really motivates them to continue in community service. They are just thrilled. It's highly motivational when you get recognized by a prestigious group like the American Dental Association Foundation.”

Ryan Ray Dela Cruz, a third-year dental student who is the clinic's director, concurred. He said that he and his fellow dental students are very grateful to the ADA Foundation, and he hopes that UCSF might attract additional resources as word spreads about the Bud Tarrson Award.

“We want to be able to publicize this, the fact that it's gotten acknowledgment from the ADA Foundation,” he said. “Hopefully that'll influence other organizations, other resources, that didn't really know about CDC, but now they know about it because of this award.”

The Bud Tarrson Dental School Student Community Leadership Award recognizes one outstanding dental student-organized volunteer project and provides a $5,000 award in support of the project. The ADA Foundation created the award in 2003 in honor of Bud Tarrson, former chief executive officer and owner of the John O. Butler Co. and an oral health philanthropist. His widow, Linda Tarrson, continues to be actively involved in the program as a way to honor his memory.

The Community Dental Clinic at UCSF treats homeless patients who are referred to the clinic by way of relationships with local social services agencies, Dr. Silverstein said. The patients are all working on improving themselves through drug rehabilitation, job preparedness and other such programs.

The need exceeds the ability of the clinic to serve all of the client referrals, he added.

“We limit the patients to about six appointments because we are overwhelmed,” he said. “Like in most states, the adult Medicaid program has been eliminated in California. So there's a huge demand from clients. It's the only program in the dental school where we don't charge. It's mainly basic primary care.”

UCSF provides the primary financial support for the clinic, Dr. Silverstein and Mr. Dela Cruz said. “We pretty much solely rely on that money that is set aside for us,” Mr. Dela Cruz said.

The Bud Tarrson Award will relieve some of the financial pressures, they said. The students are still planning how to use the funds, but Mr. Dela Cruz said top ideas include purchasing materials that ordinarily require waiting for donations from laboratories.

“We have a long wait list of patients who need crowns,” he said. “Every quarter we're limited by the number of crown donations we get each month. That's about two or three each month. So that's one of the top suggestions for using this money, to get crowns and stay plates. We definitely have other ideas as well. For example, our extraction instruments, we're pretty short on those.”

Mr. Dela Cruz, who has plans to become a general dentist, was closing out his term as the clinic's director at press time. He will continue working at the clinic during his final year of dental school, he said. He has fond memories of leading the clinic for a year as director.

“The best part about it is when you actually finish a patient's treatment plan and they're thanking you,” Mr. Dela Cruz said during a March 20 interview. “To me that's the best feeling. That's the best thing I can take out of this. This is actually my last week as director, so it's very bittersweet that I'm saying this.”

Last year, the ADA Foundation created the Dr. Thomas J. Zwemer Award, a companion award to the Tarrson Award that recognizes and encourages dental student programs serving underserved populations outside of the United States. The award is also $5,000 in support of the school.

The inaugural Zwemer Award was presented to the Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine for its Madagascar Ankizy Fund. More information on this award will be published in an upcoming issue of ADA News.

Dr. Richard Simms, a former ADAF board member and past ADA vice president, created and endowed the award in 2012 in honor of his mentor and longtime friend, Dr. Zwemer. Dr. Simms practices in Harbor City, Calif.

For more information about the Tarrson Award, the Zwemer Award or other ADA Foundation programs, visit