Dental care is often prohibitively expensive, especially for people living at or near the poverty line. San Francisco’s free health clinic that ran this weekend sought to help connect 300 people from around the city with basic dental care and cavity prevention help.
The free health fair was operated by the Adventist Medical Evangelism Network, a 10-year-old organization that managed to bring together over two dozen dentists, doctors, dental hygienists, nurses and dental students to take care of the walk-in patients. Danny Kwon, executive director for the network’s local branch, explains that after doing several mission trips abroad, the group realized that “there was just as big a need in America” for the type of free services they’re keen to provide.
Although the event did have a prayer table available for discussion, prayer or information, the event was open to individuals of all religious denominations. The Seventh-day Adventists see healthcare as an essential part of their core mission. “We believe we’re accountable for what we put in our bodies, because it has a profound effect on how we think, feel and treat other people,” explains Dr. Steve Mulder, an anesthesiologist from San Luis Obispo.
Dental patients who attended the clinic had their x-rays taken and were given advice as to how to relieve their mouth pain. Many of the patients, noted Kwon, were long overdue for care, needing everything from cleaning to root canals. In order to treat the greatest number of patients, the dentists treated only the dental problem most in need of care, even if multiple fillings or treatments were needed. There were so many patients visiting the clinic that, in spite of being open from 7:30am to 5pm each day, anyone arriving after 10am had to be turned away in order to ensure that everyone who had checked in would definitely receive treatment.
One patient at the clinic included 34-year-old Leticia Brown, who had put dental and medical care for her kids first, and is now paying the price with her own teeth — for several weeks, she had only been able to eat soft food because the nerve pain in one of her molars was so intense. “I went to a dentist two months ago and had two molars removed, but I think they cracked a third, and it needs to come out,” she said. Many patients were also children, who can suffer long term effects when dental care is delayed. Braces are often prescribed to young children because misaligned teeth can contribute to worn-down enamel, poor nutrition, and issues with speech development.
Volunteers included Dr. Jeri Shepherd, who is a dentist at the San Luis Obispo state prison. Dr. Shepherd said the patients weren’t the only ones getting something out of the experience. “If I can put a smile on their face and get them out of pain, that’s wonderful,” he said.