Students, community bring annual free dental care to Benton County

A patient gets dental work done for the first free dental care in 2022.
A patient gets dental work done for the first free dental care in 2022.
Contributed by Anika Phuvasate

Imagine if one email is all it took to get free dental care.

For one weekend only this really is all it takes. Oregon State University Pre-Dental  students work with local dentist, Cam Little, and global non profit, Caring Hands Worldwide, to bring free dental care to the Benton County Fairgrounds.

This year the event – which is going on its third consecutive year – will be held on April 13 and 14 serving patients every hour by appointment to get cleanings, fillings, extractions and any other care they need.

“We as volunteers do our best to create a very non-judgmental and compassionate environment for our patients,” said Anika Phuvasate, president of the pre-dental club and fourth-year biohealth science student. “No one should be afraid to reach out.”

According to Phuvasate, who has been a member of the club since the event began, it all started from a student shadowing Little who saw a similar event in Eugene and asked “why does Corvallis not have one of these?”

From there the two got to work and with the help of Caring Hands Worldwide, an organization that brings dental care to those without access or means, to create the event locally.

Caring Hands Worldwide provides the equipment but the event organization, patient and volunteer dentist recruitment, preparation and grant writing is all done by students in the club.

As club president Phuvasate herself has written many of the grants that fund the event such as OSU’s microbiology department and divisions of Benton County itself.

10 dentists and seven to nine hygienists, including Oregon Health Science University dental students, will be treating patients throughout the weekend.

According to Karla Hernandez, a fourth-year biohealth science student and volunteer coordinator for the pre-dentistry club, roughly 150 patients have been seen across the two day event  in past years.

Hernandez said there are numerous students — at OSU and OHSU — working to organize the event to ensure it runs smoothly and is as accessible as possible. Hernandes herself has been assisting with Spanish translations for scheduling and says other students will be present day-of to assist with translation and clear communication for Spanish speaking patients.

“You don’t realize how impactful (free events like this) can be for those who otherwise won’t be able to grab it,” Hernandez said.

The impact of the event goes both ways though, from patients and students as Phuvasate said her involvement in the event helped her confirm her career path in dentistry.

“I found it really rewarding to kind of de-stigmatize the visit to the dentist because I know a lot of people come in with a lot of insecurity or share around the state of their teeth,”  Phuvasate said. “People hold a lot of judgment towards people who have tooth decay because people often assume it’s … a part of individual choices that you made when, a lot of times there are a lot of social determinants that kind of come into play.”

According to an Oregon Health Authority survey from 2019,  nearly 30% of adults in Oregon had not been to the dentist in the past year.

The regular six-month visits that are supposed to happen typically involve a deep clean which Phuvasate says is vital to good oral health.

“Brushing your teeth and flossing on a daily basis is really important but it is not enough, you need a deep cleaning regularly to give yourself a clean slate,” Phuvasate said. “If you do not regularly do that you are kind of setting yourself up for plaque build up and tooth decay.”

For those looking to make an appointment, email [email protected] or text 541-556-5902.

“We really want to make sure this can continue for years to come because it is something that is so impactful for our community,” Hernandez said.

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