Health & Fitness

Need a dentist but can’t afford it? How you can get free care in Modesto this month

Dental patients receive numbing shots before work is done. The two-day free dental clinic was held at Modesto Centre Plaza in 2012.
Dental patients receive numbing shots before work is done. The two-day free dental clinic was held at Modesto Centre Plaza in 2012. Modesto Bee file

Free dental care is coming back to Modesto Centre Plaza this month for people who can’t afford to see a dentist.

The California Dental Association will hold a CDA Cares clinic Oct. 26-27 at the downtown Modesto center. About 1,600 people had cavities filled and other treatment to improve their smiles at a mass clinic at Centre Plaza in 2012.

That was the first-ever CDA Cares clinic, and a dozen others were held in Northern and Southern California over the past six years, providing more than $20 million in dental care to more than 25,000 people. The program is swinging back to Modesto for the 14th charity clinic.

“It is where we started,” said Elizabeth Demichelis, local arrangements chairwoman for the clinic. “It was a chance to come back and do it again. We have a community with a lot of dental need.”

The clinics treat pain, infection and tooth decay and provide routine dental services including fillings, basic cleaning, root canals on front teeth, extractions and limited dentures.

On average, the two-day clinics serve almost 2,000 people who face barriers to dental care. People are treated on a first-come, first-served basis. Along with providing dental care at no charge for low-income residents, the state Dental Association holds the clinics to inform policymakers of the need.

When the first clinic was staged in Modesto, the economy was much worse and adult dental benefits had been cut from California’s Medi-Cal program. Demichelis, who was part of a team that developed the free clinics, said the state recently restored Medi-Cal dental services but it will take time before the effects are seen.

To operate a clinic, it takes about 1,800 volunteers and 800 dental professionals from all over the state. Additional dentists, dental assistants and interpreters are needed to volunteer for the Modesto clinic this month, as well as medical personnel to help with health screenings.

Interpreters are especially needed to assist patients the afternoon of Oct. 26, organizers said.

Patients can start lining up at 8 a.m. Oct. 25, the day before the two-day clinic. The plan is to screen the first 300 patients the afternoon of Oct. 25 and have those people return when the clinic opens Oct. 26 to begin treatment.

Hours for the clinic are 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 26 and 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 27. Free parking is available at CrossPoint Community Church, corner of 12th and M streets.

Those with chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure should bring their medication and food and stay hydrated during the wait to make sure they pass the medical screening, Demichelis said. Patients with out-of-control diabetes or blood pressure can’t be treated in the dental clinic.

After patients enter the center, it usually takes three to four hours for digital X-rays, examination and treatment.

Demichelis, a regular volunteer for CDA Cares, said it’s better to arrive early in the morning and be prepared to stand in line. “Sometimes patients come late afternoon on the last day when we cut off the line,” she said.

Most funding for the clinics comes from the California Dental Association. The program also relies on support from local businesses and organizations.

Those wishing to volunteer at the clinic are asked to register at Click on “volunteer now.”