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Free dental care draws a crowd in Santa Rosa

  • Patients for the free dental clinic offered by Dr. Jeffrey Elliott gathered around a propane heater to ward off the damp cold, Feb. 10, 2012. (Jeff Kan Lee / PD)

While Canke Martinez, 40, anxiously waited in line with dozens of others during a free dental clinic in Santa Rosa Friday, his cousin offered him an alternative.

“My cousin said he could knock the tooth it out by blows, but I only need a filling,” Martinez said, laughing.

Martinez, a Santa Rosa landscaper who has no dental insurance, was among about 150 local residents who received free dental care Friday at Santa Rosa Dental Care, a private practice on College Avenue.

The services, estimated at about $50,000 for the day, were donated by Dr. Jeffrey Elliott, owner of the practice as part of a nationwide charity campaign called Dentistry from the Heart.

Elliott, a dentist in Santa Rosa for 30 years, put together a small squad of local and Bay Area dental professional to help out, including Dr. Julia Young of Marin County, Dr. Richard Plasch of Hayward, Santa Rosa oral surgeon Dr. Jerry Mogannam, three dental hygienists and 22 other volunteers.

“I was here at nine o'clock at night. People started lining up, even in the rain,” Elliot said. “There is a tremendous need for adult dental care.”

Denti-Cal, Medi-Cal's dental program in California, does not pay for adult dental treatment and Medicare does not cover routine dental care for the elderly. Recession-era job losses also have left many without health or dental insurance.

Throughout the morning people sat in lawn chairs of huddled outside in the parking lot.

Patients were served on a first-come, first-served basis, with numbers called out throughout the day, often to light-hearted groans from those waiting.

Inside, Elliott's practice was buzzing with activity.

“The oral surgeon is seeing someone every ten minutes,” said office manager Nicole Ellis.

Jim Bajgrowicz, a retired Larkfield resident who needed a filling, arrived at 6:30 a.m. and said he was “amazed” to see people lining up around the building and down the sidewalk.

Bajgrowicz, a 70-year-old veteran, said he doesn't get dental coverage through Medicare or Veterans Affairs health care.

He said that his wife died of lung cancer in November, and that her medical bills wiped out his retirement savings.

“My retirement, IRAs, everything we cashed in to help make the co-pays,” he said.

The lack of a federally subsidized health care system that makes dental care a priority is driving too many people to local emergency departments, Elliott said.

“They end up in ER and that is way more expensive, it's thousands of dollars when you end up in ER,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.

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