Chuck Jones, a retired Vietnam veteran, has been living in pain because of two teeth that needed extraction. His buddy, also a Vietnam vet, had a cracked tooth, and said he’s sure the throbbing toothache was not far behind.
“The VA doesn’t cover dental work,” Jones, 68, said, “so I appreciate being able to come here today to get some help.”
As Dr. Dennis Jones (no relation) entered the examining room, Chuck looked up, smiled and said, “I appreciate your doing this so much.” Noticing his Vietnam cap, Dr. Jones replied, “Well, thank you for your service.” The two briefly talked about the military before getting down to the business at hand - dental work on Free Dental Day last Friday.
Chuck’s friend, 64, who wished to remain anonymous, hasn’t seen his regular dentist (who just happens to be Dr. Rodney Peter) for two years. “He (Dr. Peter) has a real Christmas attitude ... I’m so thankful I can get some help before this turns into a bad toothache,” he said pointing to his problem area.
“This is the saddest thing,” said Meghan Haggard, an RDA for Dr. Peter. “These veterans have no insurance to care for their teeth, and they can’t eat because of the pain. What quality of life is that? It’s a real blessing to be able to help people who can’t get the care that they need.”
Dr. Jones acknowledged that low-cost dentistry isn’t available in the Mountain Area, which makes it even more important to “give back to the community that has supported us all these years.” Even though he has retired, he fills in for Dr. Peter when he’s on vacation, and helping out with Free Dental Day remains a priority for he and his wife, Cindy.
While dental hygienist Francine Russo was busy cleaning a young child’s teeth, RDA Sarah Hodge focused on taking an x-ray of Shon Nelson’s broken tooth, which would require a crown. Nelson, a hair stylist who can’t afford dental insurance, said the help he received was a great gift as he waited for Dr. Peter to examine his tooth. Recent UC Davis graduate Thomas O’Meara, who hopes to attend dental school to pursue his professional goals, helped the staff out wherever he was needed.
By the end of the day, about 35 patients had received dental care.
“Sometimes you feel like you don’t have enough time, given the sheer volume of people who come in for Free Dental Day, but with the way it was spread between offices here, at Dr. Brosi’s and Dr. Franklin’s, we were able to do more,” Dr. Peter said. “Even though these patients may come in for a single procedure, we try to look at anything and everything we can do to help. It’s so rewarding to be able to give back to those in need within our community, especially during this time of year.”
Tears slowly welling up and hugging her way out the front door, Rena Farrington, 72, was thankful, calling the day a huge blessing. Living on a fixed income and unable to afford dental insurance, Farrington had been in constant pain for two months.
Haggard has worked with Dr. Peter since 2000, and thinks of this day as her favorite of the year. With filled exam rooms and a lobby close to capacity with those waiting to be seen, Haggard - her voice heavy with emotion - said, “There are so many people in need that it almost feels like what we’re doing just isn’t enough.”
Dr. Jones began Free Dentistry Day 24 years ago, and Dr. Peter joined in seven years later. Friday’s dental team included other area dentists, Dr. Bob Brosi, Endodontist Ryan Franklin, and Fresno Oral Surgeon Anna Marie Grady, as well as several dental hygienists, dental assistants and front office staff.
Mountain Bear Fan Club provided stuffed animals, piled around the lobby’s Christmas tree, for the children to select from following their dental procedures.
Cool Bean Cafe donated complimentary coffee for the event.
NOTE: For additional photos, see sierrastar.com.