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Changing lives at University of California San Francisco Community Dental Clinic

September 06, 2019

By Kimber Solana

Photo of UCSF participants
Kits: Shay Collins, 4, receives a Head 2 Toe Kit from dental student Sapna Saini. The kits were provided by the Alliance of the ADA and included toothbrushes, toothpaste, socks, hats, gloves and gift cards. Photos by EZ Event Photography
An infection a few years ago caused Maria Martinez to lose nearly all of her teeth — except for three that remain on the bottom jaw.

"It makes it hard to eat," said Ms. Martinez, 34, adding she's a little self-conscious about it. When asked to smile, her lips always remain closed.

The University of California San Francisco Community Dental Clinic, which partners with community organizations assisting local underserved populations throughout the city, is working to fix that.

On Wednesday, Ms. Martinez was among nearly 50 adults and children who received preventive and restorative dental care from the student-run clinic, thanks in part to a grant from the ADA Foundation, along with support from Henry Schein Cares and the Alliance of the ADA.

Since spring, Ms. Martinez has visited the clinic 10 times. The goal: for her to have a complete maxillary denture and a removable partial mandibular denture. Something, she said, that would not be possible without the clinic.

"I'm very thankful for them," she said of the dental students and dentists at the clinic. "They're very good, the clinic and the people."

Photo of UCSF participant
Dentures: UCSF dental student Gaby Desantiago-Vazques, left, gives Maria Martinez a denture to try on Wednesday at the dental school's Community Dental Clinic. Ms. Martinez lost nearly all her teeth due to an infection.
What began as a bimonthly oral health screening clinic for the Multi-Service Center, the city's largest homeless shelter, it has since evolved into a weekly comprehensive dental clinic that serves five Bay Area community partners — serving about 20 patients every Wednesday evening.

The student-run clinic, which began in 1993 as a collaboration between the UCSF School of Dentistry and School of Medicine, now also provide services to many other underserved groups, including undocumented immigrants, political refugees, victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, as well as underserved children.

"I interview dental school candidates for admission and many say they want to serve the underserved," said Dr. Melissa Tuft, director of the Community Dental Clinic and UCSF assistant professor. "This is a way to put their money where their mouth is and prove it. And they show up. We have very dedicated students who are interested in improving their communities."

Each Wednesday night, on the third floor clinic of the dental school, dental students, assistants and specialty residents volunteer to provide a full range of free dental services, including exams, cleanings, restorations, crowns, root canals, extractions, dentures and implants. Fourteen student leaders work together during two-year tenures to plan and organize the clinic. On average, 18-22 adult patients and three to five kids are seen each night.

Group photo of UCSF participants
Together for a good cause: Leaders from the ADA, Alliance of the ADA and UCSF gather in front of the dental center Wednesday. From left is Susanne Espinosa, Alliance president-elect; Sue Hadnot, Alliance president; Dr. George Taylor, associate dean for diversity and inclusion; Dr. Sara Hughes, associate dean for education and student affairs; Dr. Melissa Tuft, director of the Community Dental Clinic; Dr. Ray Stewart, division chair of pediatric dentistry; Dr. Mark Kirkland, department chair; Dr. Jeffrey M. Cole, ADA president; Dr. Mike Reddy, dean; Melissa Tully, director of marketing; Dr. Sheila Brear, associate dean for faculty affairs; and Dr. Biana Roykh, predoctoral clinical director and associate clinical professor.
This year, the ADA Foundation awarded the dental clinic a Collaboration Grant of $20,000 to support an increase in the number of patients seen during ADA FDI 2019. It's part of the ADA's efforts to support a philanthropic program or organization in the location of each year's annual meeting.

"I think it's wonderful the dental clinic is using the opportunity while the ADA and FDI are here for the World Dental Congress to reach out and help out those individuals who are in need," said ADA President Jeffrey M. Cole. "When we talk about access to care and about expanding oral health, it's important that we're actually doing it."

The grant also provides funds for continuity of oral health care for 12 months for the patients.

"Continuity of care beyond the basic preventative, cleanings and fillings care has been an ongoing challenge," said Dr. Biana Roykh, predoctoral clinic director and UCSF associate clinical professor. "Many of our patients require tooth replacement to restore reasonable function and esthetics."
The grant, Dr. Roykh said, will support the clinic with laboratory costs associated with fabrication of crowns, dentures, bridges and partial dentures.

"Some of our patients will be able to get a job because they will now have their front teeth and be able to smile," she said. "Some will be able to chew properly again and improve their nutrition."

A 2017 San Francisco point-in-time census estimated the total homeless population at about 7,500 people.

"So the needs of this region for access to health care are significant," Dr. Roykh said. "The [dental clinic] has had an impressive impact on the lives of its target vulnerable and underserved population."

According to UCSF, the clinic provides some $100,000 in dental services each year, totaling more than $1 million over the clinic's lifetime.

The Alliance of the ADA, in collaboration with the ADA Foundation, provided Head 2 Toe kits to patients during Wednesday's event. These kits include toothbrushes, toothpaste, toiletries, socks, hats, gloves and gift cards.

Four-year-old Shay Collins was excited to receive the kit and immediately showed it off to his mom, Jane Kelly. Ms. Kelly had taken Shay to the clinic three times since February.

On Wednesday, Shay received a cleaning, was checked for tooth decay and had two discolored teeth observed. The dental student who worked with Shay said both teeth were normal and that Shay had no cavities.

"The dental students, the dentists and everyone in the clinic has been very professional and very nice," said Ms. Kelly, who was referred to the clinic through the Irish Pastoral Center.

Wednesday night's event also received support from Henry Schein, which made an in-kind product donation to the UCSF Community Dental Clinic valued at about $12,500.

"We, in collaboration with the ADA and the ADA Foundation, are proud to support UCSF in its efforts to provide preventative and restorative care to the people who need it most," said A.J. Caffentzis, North American Dental Group at Henry Schein president. "Since its inception in 1993, the UCSF Community Dental Clinic has provided dental health services to the underserved population, and its mission aligns with Henry Schein's commitment to expanding access to care. We look forward to seeing the accomplishments of the team at UCSF as they continue to help health happen."