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Bridge to Home dental clinic serves long-neglected mouths

Monthly clinic for homeless or those who cannot afford dental care offers relief

Posted: September 16, 2013 3:18 p.m.
Updated: September 16, 2013 3:18 p.m.

Patient Virginia Rea, left, gets an X-ray of her teeth by Tim Davis, center, and Dawn McNeil at the free dental clinic held at Bridge to Home in Saugus on Saturday. Photo by Dan Watson.

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SANTA CLARITA - The whir of a dentist drill cut through the warm afternoon air of the cramped mobile building in Saugus.

The drill stops, soon replaced by the abrasive scraping of metal on enamel.

For many people, these sounds are met with outright cringes or stifled inclinations to bolt out of the chair.

But for clients of the Bridge to Home Homeless Shelter dental clinic serving the Santa Clarita Valley, they are met with sighs of relief and remarks of gratitude.

Doug Joslin sat in a reclining chair Saturday as he heard the news.

A number of his teeth had become extremely worn, partly from decay and partly a habit of grinding his teeth. Several were worn down to a point where the nerves had become exposed.

The result was immense pain.

“I have trouble eating,” he said. “If it’s too solid, I can’t eat it.”

Saturday was Joslin’s first trip to the Bridge to Home clinic, which offers free basic dental services to those who are homeless or who need dental work but cannot afford it.

Joslin heard of the clinic from a family member and decided to stop in and see if he could get some help.
“I feel like if I can get my teeth taken care of, it will make me healthier,” he said.

Bridge to Home has held the monthly clinic for a little more than a year, oftentimes serving 12 to 14 clients in a given day.

Saturday was a particularly busy day, with more than 20 signed up to receive advice and treatment from two volunteer dentists from the San Fernando Valley Dental Society.

While the clinic is not equipped to handle more complex dental procedures, the dentists perform cleanings, extractions and fillings.

Tim Davis, the executive director of Bridge to Home, also helps out by taking dental X-rays.

Dr. Nita Dixit was one of two dentists at the clinic Saturday. After finishing with a client, she removed her mask and examined her work station: a reclining chair covered partly by a black garbage bag.

Nearby was a cluttered counter of tools along with a bowl of packaged toothbrushes and toothpaste.

“We came in not really knowing what to expect,” Dixit said. “I mean, a lawn chair for a dental chair?”

“But it works,” she said with a smile.

It’s been about 10 years since Cheryl Dilger was able to eat properly.

Her teeth, worn down, broken or missing, kept her from being able to chew.

But there were always more pressing concerns, financial and personal, that kept her from getting the dental work she needed.

On Saturday, Dilger received a new set of dentures.

The clinic began offering denture services in response to the number of clients who needed them, said Dawn McNeil, a Newhall resident who volunteers at the dental clinic.

“Eventually we want to be full service,” she said as she flipped through manila envelopes containing patient information.

“We want to be able to do most anything right here.”

“We’re like in the guppy phase right now,” she added. “But we’re working our way up, we’re finding our way.”

Davis said the plan is to start holding two dental clinics a month later this year. Eventually, he said, he would like to see weekly clinics if Bridge to Home can secure the funding and the volunteers.

Davis said he was especially grateful for the dentists who volunteer their time for the clinic.

“I’m very appreciative,” he said. “There are good people here and it’s great that we can help them like this.”
On Twitter @LukeMMoney




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