Local dentists fix smiles of unhoused residents

Homeless Action Sonoma has connected its clients with dentists to restore their dental health and the confidence of having a nice smile.|

The first thing dentist Dr. Julie Forstadt sees when she meets someone is their smile, so when given the chance to assist the unhoused clients of Homeless Action Sonoma, she took the opportunity.

Annie Falandes, founder of Homeless Action Sonoma, a nonprofit dedicated to mitigating homelessness in Sonoma Valley, has connected numerous clients to dental care from local Sonoma dentists, including Dr. Tyler Boynton and Dr. Alex McMahon.

“The main thing with the two people I helped, they're ready to venture out into the real world again, and you have to be able to present yourself and I helped them do that and it was very gratifying,” Forstadt said. “(Dental health) affects your whole system.”

Dental health relates to many parts of a person’s overall health. The mouth is the first point of contact for outside particles and bacteria, and it opens to the respiratory system and the digestive system.

“Without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease,” according to the Mayo Clinic. And poor dental health has been linked to heart disease and pregnancy complications.

Barbara, 57, was one of seven children in her family, she said. Of them all, she was the only one with poor teeth. A series of health issues rendered her homeless last year and her teeth continued to deteriorate.

“I always had bad teeth and I was bullied for it,” Barbara said. “It killed me, so I always put my hand in front of my mouth.”

She developed a bad mouth infection, had broken teeth and required tooth extractions, she said. She sought help from the County of Sonoma’s health services, but their dentists wanted to pull several of her teeth, so she declined treatment.

In stepped Falandes, who is also one of the patients of Forstadt’s dentistry. Through her work with unhoused residents of Sonoma Valley, Falandes learned of their dental woes and sought the help of Forstadt and other local dentists to provide free services to her clients.

Casings, fillings, implants, crowns and even oral surgery has been provided at no cost by Sonoma dentists and oral surgeons Jason Groff, Tom Halliday, Alex McMahon, Tyler Boynton and Forstadt.

“It just made me feel better, it doesn’t hurt anymore,” Barbara said.

In an update to HAS supporters, Falandes wrote that Barbara came to her home after her dental work with her hand over her mouth.

“Look!” she told Falandes, dropping her hand and showing off her restored smile. Barbara was almost in tears as she described the relief and newfound confidence of having her smile back, Falandes wrote.

“The first thing I look at is someone’s teeth,” Forstadt said. “I feel grateful that I can I can help somebody get back on their feet again and go out in the world and be who they want to be.”

Sonoma dental care practitioners have rehabilitated the smiles of seven HAS clients, and they continue to provide follow-up services for Sonoma residents like Barbara.

“After losing everything,” Barbara said, “I didn’t want to lose my teeth, too.”

Contact Chase Hunter at chase.hunter@sonomanews.com and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

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