Dental Care Crisis Draws Thousands to Free Medical Clinic

OAKLAND, Calif.—Her dark blue hoodie pulled over her head, and wearing many layers of clothing, 25-year-old Justice (who would give only her first name) stood shivering in the cold night air last Friday, waiting for the gates of the Oakland Coliseum to open.

She would have to wait for another five hours for that to happen and another three-and-a-half hours from then to get a token that will ensure her a spot in a dentist’s chair on Saturday. It was the start of a first-come-first-served, four-day medical, dental and vision clinic in the Coliseum.

The wait, asserted Justice, who lives on food stamps in San Francisco, would be well worth it.

“I have a tooth that is rotting and several that are infected and I am in pain,” said the young African American woman, drawing on a cigarette. “I went to San Francisco General some time ago and told them I could die if my teeth are not checked and they told me, ‘Ninety-four dollars, please.’ I turned around and left.”