NewsMaking It In San Diego


Making It in San Diego: Connecting underserved San Diegans to affordable dental care

Posted at 12:07 PM, Oct 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-21 18:07:44-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Neglecting dental hygiene can not only impact a person's overall health but also their self-esteem. For many San Diegans, a lack of insurance means they don't see a dentist for years or even decades.

“I’ve seen people in my practice in the private area that haven’t been to the dentist in 20 to 40 years," said Dr. Irvin Silverstein, director of the UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic Project.

The student-run clinic has been working to fill the gap for low-income patients in San Diego for 20 years.

“The biggest thing it has done is help meet the need in San Diego for a lot of underserved people. People think that underserved means homelessness or out on the streets, no. We see a lot of working poor," said Silverstein.

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Poor dentistry can lead to heart conditions, stroke, diabetes, and several other health problems. The four UCSD clinics are run by students and volunteer dentists, offering free care to the community:

  • Downtown: Provides comprehensive dental care and oral health education to underserved San Diegans
  • Pacific Beach: Offers urgent dental care to patients in severe pain or with active infections
  • Lemon Grove: Offers dental care to Lemon Grove School District students Pre-K to 8th grade and their families
  • Veterans Village: Offers free dental care to veterans participating in a 9-month long rehabilitation program

Dr. Silverstein says another issue they are seeing is retirees no longer having access to dental care because Medicare does not cover it. He says the American Dental Association (ADA) is acknowledging dentistry should be a benefit in Medicare; to at least get teeth cleaned twice a year and examined.

Medicaid does provide some dental coverage, but there are limitations, and only 20 percent of dentists nationwide accept it, according to the Center for Healthcare Strategies, Inc.

Dr. Silverstein says he often sees parents getting care for their children while neglecting their own.

“They’ll put off going to the dentist, and by the time they realize they have a problem, it’s so expensive they don’t know what to do. And sometimes they even pull out their own teeth," said Dr. Silverstein.

Other resources in the community provide affordable options for San Diegans:

Dr. Silverstein hopes to open a fifth clinic in Normal Heights but says he will need more volunteer dentists and students to make it happen. Interested students do not have to attend UC San Diego to take part in the clinic.