Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Reporting on science, technology and innovation in Arizona and the Southwest through a collaboration from Arizona NPR member stations. This project is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.Additional stories from the Arizona Science Desk are posted at our collaborating station, KJZZ:

Dental Practice in Yuma Volunteers Services for Free to Benefit Local Mission

Several dentists in the city of Yuma have volunteered their services to the homeless and in-need free of charge.  One of those dentists made it his aim to see dozens of patients from the local mission in a single day.  For the Arizona Science Desk, Maya Springhawk Robnett reports…

33-year-old Scotty White came to Crossroads Mission in Yuma two and a half months ago.  The Mission provides services for both homelessness and drug addiction.  And White, an Army veteran who saw three tours in five years, is a recovering crystal meth addict.

“I got out of Iraq, came home, ran into bad stuff, started to do drugs.  You know,” White says, “I thought that was the only thing that could help the PTSD. Because sometimes you don’t want to go to sleep, you know, because of the nightmares.  But I know there’s a better way now.”

Crystal meth is well-known to cause tooth decay.  White says he used to put it directly on his wisdom teeth.  Now he’s in so much pain, he avoids chewing food on that side of his mouth.  He says getting dental care will help him stay clean.

“Feeling good about yourself, getting healthy, getting my teeth pulled—that’s all part of recovery,” White explains. “You feel better, you know? If you feel better, then you don’t want to go back and do drugs.”

"Feeling good about yourself, getting healthy, getting my teeth pulled...that's all part of recovery."

A Crossroads Mission van has been ferrying patients like White to Picacho Family Dental since seven in the morning.  White is just one of more than thirty patients scheduled to see the dentist today—some, for the first time in months; for others, the first time in decades.  Teodoro Pereyra, for instance, hasn’t seen a dentist in more than twenty years.  Pereyra, 53, says he isn’t in pain right now, but that’s not always the case.

“A few days ago, I was eating and I kind of bit one of the teeth wrong, and it put it in pain for a little while.  So, I’ll probably have that one pulled out,” Pereya says. 

Alanna Limon, a case manager at Crossroads Mission, says that’s one of the reasons dental health is so important: nutrition.

“You know, if they don’t have their teeth taken care of, how are they going to be healthy? We have a lot of people coming in and they have broken teeth, missing a lot of teeth and can’t even eat some of the time because they’re struggling with the pain,” she explains.  “So there is a high need.”

"We have a lot of people coming in and they have broken teeth, missing a lot of teeth and can't even eat some of the time because they're struggling with the pain."

Over the past several years, a handful dentists and organizations in Yuma individually committed to giving free dental care to those in need: Sunset Community Health Center and Dr. Kumar, Dr. Robert Land, Dr. Franklin Hulme—and Dr. Jason Lemmon at Picacho Family Dental, where Pereya and White are having their teeth worked on.

Lemmon and his staff volunteered to perform fillings, cleanings, and extractions today for free.  A member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Lemmon says his faith is why he decided to do this. 

“I feel like I’ve been given talents from God,” Lemmon says, standing outside his practice, “and so for me it’s just about sharing those talents.  I mean, that’s my talent.  I’m a dentist.  And that’s the best way I see that I can give back to the community is by sharing those things with those who normally wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

Inside the building, Lemmon and his dental assistant, Mary, begin extracting two of Scotty White’s wisdom teeth.

When the procedure is over, the two teeth sit on a metal tray and White is given instructions on aftercare.

"I don't feel like I have my whole life in my mouth anymore."

“Pressure’s what’s going to stop the bleeding,” Lemmon says as he removes his gloves. “That’s most important.”

As he leaves Picacho Family Dental, Scotty White bites down on gauze to curb the bleeding in his mouth—but, he still smiles.

“I don’t feel like I have any—my whole life in my mouth anymore, you know?” White says. “It’s clean.”

Related Content