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[whitespace] Dentist and Patient
Checking Up: Dientes! hopes that regular checkups will prevent costly future decay.



In 1990, a few local dentists noticed that there was nowhere for people on MediCal to go for dental care. "Let there be Dientes!" they said, and four years and several grants later, there was.

Dientes! is the county's only safety net for those who otherwise wouldn't have access to dental care. Dientes! treats people with MediCal (which most dentists refuse to accept), people with HIV and those whose income level is two times the federal poverty level--that means a family of four whose income doesn't exceed $32,000, or a single person with an income below $16,000. The small Mission Street clinic receives about 4,000 visits a year.

But its Herculean efforts hardly stop there. At the heart of Dientes! is the Healthy Start Program. "Instead of trying to bring the kid to the dentist, we bring the dentist to the kid," explains executive director Jay Balzer. Since 1998, a team of dentists and dental assistants has lugged the tools of their trade into the five neediest Pajaro Valley elementary schools, where they've filled the cavities and extracted the decayed teeth of more than 6,000 kids. The mission is to get into the kids' mouths before the real damage begins.

"Pajaro Valley schools average about two abscesses per classroom," says Balzer. "Your average middle-class schools average about one abscess per school."

For those who have a hard enough time paying to see a doctor when they're sick, dental care is something of a luxury. "Dental care isn't important," Balzer says, "until you get a toothache, and then nothing else matters."

Like other nonprofits, Dientes! relies on the kindness of strangers. In addition to paid dentists and hygienists, several local dentists volunteer their skills one or two days a month. Other private donations and public grants (Dental Health Fund, the Packard Foundation and the California Endowment), as well as proceeds from fundraisers like its annual golf tournament, have enabled the Dientes! clinic to finally expand from three dental chairs to six.

Future plans include similar outreach programs in nursing homes, vans that would pay visits to migrant worker camps, and a new clinic in Watsonville, where, for many, access to dental care is nonexistent. "We have a real commitment to the Latino community," Balzer says. According to this year's Community Assessment Project, only 54 percent of the county's Latino population has a regular source of dental care, compared to 83 percent of Caucasians.

If a Tree Falls

Conservationists say something is missing from the U.S. Forest Service's final environmental impact statement on the Clinton Administration's Roadless Area Protection Plan for national forests. Released on Nov. 13, the environmental impact statement makes steps toward preserving remaining wilderness areas in 39 states and in Puerto Rico, but critics say it also leaves glaring loopholes.

Last year, Clinton asked the USFS to come up with a plan to protect 60 million acres of the nation's remaining old-growth forests. The draft proposal protects 20 to 40 million acres and permits logging in sensitive areas. Clinton has until Dec. 13 to sign the plan or call for a more comprehensive one.

Many are calling this the most important piece of environmental legislation since the Wilderness Act of 1964. During the public comment period this summer, the Forest Service received a record-breaking 1.2 million comments, more comments than any environmental issue in history.

In response, the service decided to put a stop to commodity logging in roadless areas, allowing instead for "stewardship activities." But according to CALPIRG, two-thirds of the timber cut from national forest lands in recent years has been a result of such stewardship activities. The plan also leaves out the country's largest national forest, Tongass Rainforest in Alaska.

"The forest service's plan completely exempts the Tongass, delaying protection there for another four years," says Chris Guenther, a CALPIRG campaign director at the Santa Cruz field office.

An analysis conducted by the Wilderness Society and the Heritage Forests Campaign suggests that up to 87 percent of the roadless areas that the forest service is supposed to protect could still be logged using cables, helicopters and cranes. The analysis also states that 81 percent of California's forests are at risk, making them some of the most endangered in the country. According to the analysis, "inventoried roadless areas in national forests in California total 4,334,000 acres, while the areas out of reach of logging under the draft proposal amount to just 823,000 acres or 19 percent."

World AIDS Day

For those who have grown complacent about the epidemic proportions of AIDS, World AIDS Day, on Dec. 1, serves as a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder that AIDS is still very much a reality.

"The focus of World AIDS Day will be more global this year," says Cathy Conway, development director at the Santa Cruz AIDS Project. Speakers will discuss the situation in Africa, where the area south of the Sahara holds 10 percent of the world's population and two-thirds of the world's HIV positive people.

Since 1995, Day Without Art--in which works of public art are covered up in order to memorialize the many artists who have died of AIDS--has been an important part of the countywide World AIDS Day program. "It's a reminder of what the world will be like if we continue to lose all these people," Conway explains. This year, the World AIDS Day Committee (in league with the Santa Cruz AIDS Project, the Diversity Center and Bulkhead Gallery) will also create a memorial to Santa Cruz artists in front of the McPherson Center.

At 6pm, a candlelight vigil will be held on the corner of Pacific Avenue and Front Street, across from the Clock Tower. The names of those who have died of AIDS in the county will be read, followed by music and a reception at the Drop-In Center (412 Front St.).

The 15-year-old Santa Cruz AIDS Project's Drop-In Center has become a model for 10 new State Office of AIDS-funded drop-in centers throughout the state. One of them, SCAP's Casa Bienestar, a drop-in center in Watsonville, will open during the second week of December.

"Because people are living longer now, the kinds of services they need have changed," says SCAP executive director Michelle Lewis. "The primary need for many right now is housing. We regard housing as a health-care issue." Among many other services, SCAP offers emergency housing for people living with AIDS, but the need exceeds its resources. Of its 260 clients, SCAP is able to provide low-cost housing for only about 10.

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From the November 29-December 6, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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