A day of Christmas cheer, deep gratitude & wide smiles

Until last Friday, Eugene Gordillo of Oakhurst hadn’t seen a dentist for more than 10 years. His tooth has been bothering him for longer than he can remember, and he has had no choice but to live in constant pain.

“I recently returned to this area,” Gordillo said, “and heard about Free Dental Day in Oakhurst. Nothing like that was offered where I used to live so I jumped on it. I’ve been up since 3:30 this morning to make sure that I’m in the first five to see a dentist. I can’t afford dental insurance so to be seen by someone who can help me is such a blessing.”

Gordillo was one of the first to be seen by Dr. Dennis Jones.

Down the hall, Logan Metzger, 9, a student at Wasuma Elementary, relaxed and quietly read his book, “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” while waiting for Registered Dental Hygienist Courtney Villagomez to begin the sealant process.

“This is just wonderful,” Logan’s mother Shannon said. “It has saved us thousands of dollars.” Logan’s younger brother, Braydon, 7, had his teeth sealed earlier, and Dr. Ryan Franklin performed a root canal on Shannon. “It means we can have a Christmas this year.”

“This is so helpful to me,” Sandy Bostic of Oakhurst explained. “I just lost my husband a year ago, and Social Security wipes me out each month.” Bostic, who had lined up at 6:30 a.m., was number 17. She needed to have a tooth pulled.

With six children and both parents self-employed, dental insurance is an unaffordable luxury for the Becker family, who called this day a true blessing.

Jones began Free Dentistry Day 21 years ago, and Dr. Rodney Peter joined in eight 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.

Even though the day is set aside each December to offer a single dental procedure, these doctors generally try go above and beyond.

“When we opened the doors at 7:45 this morning, the lobby was immediately filled with 45 people wanting to be seen,” Cindy Muehlenbeck, office manager said. “I think people depend on this day. Some wait a whole year because they simply can’t afford to go to the dentist. The doctors are so generous that they want to fix everything, so they try to get as much done as possible for the patients. It’s a very gratifying day that our entire staff looks forward to.”

“This is my most favorite day of the year,” RDA Janet Kelly said, “because we are able to help those in need with dentistry. Most of us live in this community, and make our livings because of this community, so this is our way of giving back.”

With the future goal of becoming an orthodontist, Yosemite High senior Sam Devito chose Free Dental Day as his senior project. The 17-year-old met with Peter to discuss the preparation plans beforehand, and created fliers to advertise the event, passing them out in both Oakhurst and Ahwahnee. The day of, Devito helped with prep work, sterilizing instruments, guiding patients to where they needed to go, making sure they were comfortable, and cleaning the rooms once the patient left. Devito plans on attending the University of Colorado in Boulder for four years, followed by another four in dental school at UCLA.

“This whole experience has made me realize just how lucky I am,” Devito said. “My parents are fortunate enough to be able to provide dental care for our family, but there are so many who don’t have the money for this. It was amazing to be able to give back, to work with such an amazing staff with such positive attitudes and who were so willing to answer all my questions. I learned so much and hope to be able to carry this knowledge on to college and later to dental school. I’ve read a lot of articles on dentistry, and one of the key components is to be personable, to make the patient feel comfortable, even though they may have dental tools in their mouths - and these dentists were so good at that.”

By the end of the day, 71 (52 adults and 19 children) had received dental care.

“We actually got to help several children with all their dentistry needs,” Peter explained. “It really benefited us this year to have Dr. Brosi and Dr. Franklin in their own offices. That way, we were able to see patients more quickly, more efficiently, and to do more dentistry. Some times you feel like you don’t have enough time, given the sheer volume of people, but with the way it was spread between offices, we were able to do more. These patients may come in for a single procedure, but we try to look at anything and everything we can do. During this time of year especially, it’s very rewarding to be able to help those in need within our community.”

It will be a day to remember for Gordillo. Following his tooth extraction, with his left cheek puffed out from the wads of cotton, he was able to offer a small, lopsided smile.

“I feel a little sore right now, but I’m so happy that it’s done. I’m looking forward to a pain-free, bad-breath-free life. Now I will be able to talk to people face-to-face, without turning away because of my tooth. I’ve been very self-conscious and this will definitely help with my self-esteem,” Gordillo said. “Everyone who helped me today was so warm and caring. Even while I was getting a shot, the dental assistant rubbed my shoulder to keep me calm. This day has meant so much to me ...” Gordillo stopped, gazing down a moment before adding, “... thank you, thank you all so very much.”