Turlock dental clinic offers free services to smile about

naustin@modbee.comJune 8, 2013 

    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
    Recent stories written by Nan
    On Twitter: @nanaustin
    E-mail: naustin@modbee.com

— For those who dread a visit to the dentist, camping out overnight to guarantee time in the chair might seem a little crazy. But for about 86 patients with bad teeth and no dental coverage, free care was worth the wait.

Turlock dentist Robert McCulla said patients started lining up outside his Delbon Avenue office at 8 p.m. Friday for the city's first Dentistry From the Heart event. McCulla, three dental hygienists and all his office staff volunteered their services from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to offer free cleanings, fillings and tooth pullings.

Office scheduler Yvette Briggs said the office voted to give up a Saturday with their families in order to help others. "I'm part of the team," Briggs said.

Root canal specialist Sal Souza and Santa Rosa dentist Andy McCormick, both friends of McCulla, also donated their time for the day.

Modestan Charles Munshaw said he got in line at 2 a.m. to get his first dental visit in five years.

He is unemployed and uninsured. Even adults who have Medi-Cal, he noted, generally do not have dental coverage. The change was not a good way to save money, Munshaw said. "It gets to the point (where) it does more damage."

About 11:30 a.m., McCulla pulled Munshaw's problem tooth for free. About 25 patients needed teeth pulled, McCulla said.

"In losing teeth, the usual culprit is gum disease. It takes away the bone that keeps teeth in. It's kind of like your car: If you get regular oil changes, everything lasts a lot longer," he said.

About 36 patients had teeth cleanings and 25 needed cavities filled — some that had waited far too long, Souza said.

Reclining in Souza's chair waiting for his mouth to go numb for a partial root canal to save a badly decayed tooth, Anthony Solorio said he lost dental care when he hit 21. Now 22, his job does not provide insurance coverage.

Solorio took his place in line outside McCulla's office at 4 a.m.

Souza said the partial procedure could save the tooth, but a full root canal will be needed down the line. "It buys them some time and relieves the pain," he said.

"There's such a huge need for basic dental care for adults," said McCormick, who provides a free day each year in his own office.

Souza said he, too, sees a huge need. "We just want to make a dent," he said.

Bee staff writer Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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