A middle-aged Latino man pulls something out of his pocket. In his hand, is a perfectly shaped tooth; a crown that fell out two years ago. He has been carrying it around with him, hoping to get it fixed one day. Without the crown, the tooth is a nub sitting on the gum line and can't be used. With little hope of ever having the money to get his crown re-attached, he carried it with him to a free clinic hosted by the Loma Linda University School of Dentistry.
When I met this man, who preferred to remain anonymous, he had already been to a free clinic hosted by the Dental School a week earlier. The clinic, held yearly, is called “Clinic with a Heart.” Its purpose was two-fold: the community's underserved residents received no-cost dental care and dental students put their education to use performing dental procedures. Individuals attending the event received at least one procedure: a deep cleaning, extraction or filling. But crown replacements were not on the list. A total of 275 people received treatment that day. The man was one of those that had a cleaning done, but was not able to get his crown re-attached.
Persistent, he came back a week later, when the School of Dentistry hosted another event--a reduced-cost or no-cost dental hygiene board-screening event. This time, he brought his girlfriend and her children so they could have their teeth cleaned. That's when I met him. Again, with his crown in hand, he was hoping to get someone to help him. However, the purpose of this event was to provide low-income or under-insured members of the community with free or low cost cleanings.
“We are looking for people that haven’t had their teeth cleaned in more than five years,” says Colleen Whitt, Senior Advisor. Colleen supervises the hygienists that participate in the event.
Jeanne Gustafson, a 2nd year student agreed. “We’re always looking for patients with a big need, because it’s more satisfying for the students and helps us to learn better.”
Still, even though this clinic was only offering cleanings, it looked like there might be a special exception.
While sitting and chatting with my new friend, Whitt walked over to us. She asked to see his unattached crown and he pleasantly showed it to her. She told him once again not to worry, that he would be taken care of.
Confident that he might be able to use his tooth again soon, he smiled, almost giggling, and said, “Everything is going to be okay.”
Whitt told me later that the School re-attached the man's crown that night.