Resource for the Community

Posted on: Thursday, 07/26/2018

Grateful Patient at the Wilson-Jennings-Bloomfield UCLA Venice Dental Center

Carmen Fabian starts most days by kissing her grandkids goodbye as they head off to school. The 68-year-old grandmother of four is grateful that she can help take care of two of them while living with one of her daughters in Culver City. She also tries to maintain her health by walking in her neighborhood every day.

However, one area where Carmen had experienced challenges is around her oral health. After a recommendation from her primary care physician that she needed to see a dentist as soon as possible due to severe pain in one of her back teeth, her daughter found the Wilson-Jennings-Bloomfield UCLA Venice Dental Center (VDC) as a location that would accept Carmen’s Denti-Cal coverage. “I was in a lot of pain from one particular tooth, and because I hadn’t been seeing a dentist regularly, I didn’t have any care provider to turn to,” said Carmen. 

The VDC serves as a major safety-net and primary oral care provider for many seniors, adults, and children in West Los Angeles and surrounding communities, providing nearly 13,000 patient visits in the 2016 fiscal year. Over the years, the VDC’s patient base has grown to distant areas in Southern California and has also increased its services to include patients with complex needs who have limited access to advanced dental care. 

After her initial consultation at the VDC, Carmen found out she needed fairly extensive dental treatments, which included a root canal on a back upper tooth, followed by a crown – treatments with fees that would add up fast, even though the VDC keeps its fees at the lowest possible threshold to financially accommodate its patients. 

Furthermore, adult Denti-Cal only covers regular cleanings, fillings, full dentures, and root canals on front teeth. Deep cleanings, gum (periodontal) treatment, root canals on back teeth, permanent crowns and bridges, or partial removable dentures for replacing one or a few missing teeth, are not covered benefits. Any patient with adult Denti-Cal coverage who needs such services has to pay the full fee out of pocket. For many seniors like Carmen, the non-covered dental treatments, which they need the most are out of reach financially.

“I didn’t have the money to pay for all the complex dental services that I needed,” said Carmen. “I was in a position where I was going to have to go without and just live with the chronic pain.” Fortunately for her, the VDC focuses on providing quality care and major dental services for the community, and it has been able to partner with various community foundations and other philanthropists to help supplement the coverage provided by adult Denti-Cal to qualifying patients. 

“The UCLA Venice Dental Center remains committed to enhancing the health and quality of life for low-income and indigent children, adults, and seniors who have limited access to oral healthcare,” said Dr. Lillian Cheng, director of the UCLA Venice Dental Center and an associate clinical professor of Restorative Dentistry. “Since we’re a teaching institution, the quality of our care and our access to resources makes us an appealing choice for all patients, too.”

For Carmen, her case qualified her to receive patient subsidy funds from The Nicholas Endowment, a non-profit that was created with the vision of enabling individuals to reach their full potential in today’s society. The funding covered a significant part of the fees for her root canal treatment and crown on a back tooth, which are not within the scope of Denti-Cal coverage.

To begin the complex treatment process, Carmen was assigned to third-year student dentist, Ibrahim Saeed, who delivered her treatment and managed her case. The supervision of her root canal treatment was assigned to volunteer faculty member and UCLA D.D.S. alum, Dr. Brandon Seto, an endodontist. Dr. Lillian Cheng oversees the entire care process to ensure quality control.

“By exposing UCLA dental students to a population with critical and extensive needs, we are providing valuable professional and clinical experience that is deeply grounded in social impact, and this experience lays the groundwork for their professional careers in similar settings once they complete their training,” said Dr. Paulo Camargo, a professor of Periodontics and the associate dean for clinical dental sciences.

To say that Carmen is a grateful patient is an understatement. She received specialized dental care that would have been unaffordable without the VDC. With the majority of the work behind her, she can now transition into the maintenance stage of dental care. Her experience as a patient was so positive that she plans to continue coming to the VDC as her dental home and refer her friends.

For nearly 50 years, the VDC has been a valuable resource for the Westside community. Without philanthropic support to supplement the limited coverage provided by adult Denti-Cal, patients like Carmen, who do not have the funds to augment their Denti-Cal coverage, often disappear mid-treatment or, more often, decide to opt-out of treatment altogether. This leads to the deterioration of oral health and the need for multiple and sequential tooth extractions. Ultimately, one’s inability to receive proper dental care prevents one from having a productive life and contributing to society. 

“The link of oral health to overall health is undeniable, and I appreciated having this service-learning opportunity at the UCLA Venice Dental Center,” said Ibrahim. “Carmen was a dream patient and gave me confidence about selecting dentistry as a career. I learned a lot from treating her and found it incredibly rewarding. She can now smile without pain and in return wants to teach me Spanish!”