State

Oakdale dentists donate day to uninsured

OAKDALE — Linnea Larson says it's been a few years since she last saw a dentist.

The Oakdale retiree gets by on $1,400 a month in Social Security and can't afford dental insurance.

Larson was among the 60 or so patients who received free dental care Monday at River Oak Dental Spa. They got their teeth X-rayed, examined and cleaned. Others had cavities filled and bad teeth pulled.

"I think this is great, what they are doing here," Larson said as she sat in the lobby waiting for her turn. "Dental insurance is too expensive."

Dentists Christina Tourtlotte and Mary Tourtlotte (they are sisters) and Andrea Pezoldt and their staff of about 10 decided to donate their labor Monday.

"This is a community service day," Christina Tourtlotte said.

She said they held the clinic to help adults who lost their dental care coverage under Medi-Cal and for anyone else without insurance, such as those who have lost their jobs.

"We saw adult Medi-Cal patients in the past," she said.

Medi-Cal is the state insurance program for low-income families with children, the disabled and low-income seniors. In July, the state eliminated Medi-Cal dental care for adults as part of its efforts to balance its budget.

About 3 million Californians lost their coverage, said Anthony Wright, executive director of the Sacramento-based nonprofit Health Access.

Lalo and Alexis Casas were among those who lost their coverage. Lalo Casas said he works as a kitchen manager at a Denny's. His wife stays home with their three children, ages 6, 9 and 14.

Lalo Casas said Medi-Cal still covers their children but not him or his wife. He said he can't afford dental insurance for him and his wife.

"Now when we want to see a dentist, we will have to pay for it out of our pockets," Lalo Casas said as he waited to have his teeth checked Monday.

Christina Tourtlotte said it will end up costing taxpayers a lot more not to provide basic, preventive dental care to adults.

"The lack of care is going to accumulate through time," she said. "And it's only going to be more for the taxpayers."

Wright said the state will save about $100 million a year by not providing Medi-Cal dental benefits for adults.

But that savings is misleading, he said.

Those adults may show up at emergency rooms because of a toothache or abscessed tooth, and they may receive antibiotics and pain medication.

"Going to the emergency room with a dental problem is far more expensive and simply not the appropriate place to have this care delivered," he said.

"It's not ideal and vastly more expensive."

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or 578-2316.

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