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AT&T Pro-Am: Dental Clinic Follows PGA Tour

Local dentists and staff volunteering inside the Christina's Smile mobile dental clinic.
Christina's Smile mobile dental clinic parked at a golf course in Salinas.

Every year the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am brings together celebrities and golfers.  But far from the fun on the golf links, this PGA Tour event is important to some local children in need of dental care. 

You could say Diane Stigler has been on the PGA Tour for 16 years.  That’s how long she’s helped run the non-profit Christina’s Smile.  It’s a mobile dental clinic that follows the Tour.  “We provide free dental care for underprivileged children from all over the country,” said Stigler. 

The clinic is a semi-truck that’s been converted into a state of the art dental facility.  It’s parked at the Twin Creeks Golf Course in Salinas, a central location for most of the clinic’s patients.  When you enter at the back of the truck, you’ll find Stigler taking patient x-rays.  Then there’s a line of three dental chairs, and all the way at the end, it’s the sterilization area where dental tools are constantly being cleaned and repackaged.

Christina’s Smile was founded 24 years ago by Texas dentist Dr. Richard Garza.  He was looking for a way to help children who don’t have insurance or regular access to dental care.  Stigler says he thought partnering with the PGA would help recruit volunteer dentists.  “He’s found it a little different.  He really realizes they’re givers.  It doesn’t really matter if there’s golf involved or not, but it was a great idea for him to work in cooperation with the PGA tour,” said Stigler.

Dr. David Ramirez and his staff have been volunteering with Christina’s Smile for five years. “My thing has always been trying to increase access to care,” said Dr. Ramirez.  That’s why at his practice in Gonzales, he offers a sliding pay scale to help low-income patients.  He says volunteering is just one more way to help kids who desperately need dental care.  “I just had an eleven year old right now, who has never been to the dentist before.  She’s only had her adult molars in her mouth four or five years, and she’s already getting root canals on them,” said Dr. Ramirez.

During this three day clinic, the local, volunteer dentists will do everything from cleanings to root canals.  They’ll see 120 kids from Monterey County.  Ernesto Velo helped find most of the patients.  He’s with the County’s Migrant Education Department.  “We know an unhealthy child cannot perform at his or her best in school,” said Velo.  His Department has limited funds to help local children in need of dental care, so his staff mainly focuses on teaching prevention, like regular brushing and flossing.   That’s why Velo always looks forward to this annual visit that happens in conjunction with the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. “Christina’s Smile is unique.  It’s a full scale clinic .  It’s at zero cost to our program,” said Velo.

Standing outside the mobile clinic, Florina Martinez waits for her two children to finish up their visit.  “If it were not for this opportunity, we probably wouldn’t have this treatment.  I work in agriculture. Right now it’s off season, so the little money that we have, we’re saving, it’s for food and rent,” said Florina Martinez (with Ernesto Velo translating) .  At this stop alone, Christina’s smile will provide nearly $100,000 worth of free dental care. This year the mobile clinic will be at ten PGA tour events.  The next California stop is this October at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Sonoma. 

Krista joined KAZU in 2007. She is an award winning journalist with more than a decade of broadcast experience. Her stories have won regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and honors from the Northern California Radio and Television News Directors Association. Prior to working at KAZU, Krista reported in Sacramento for Capital Public Radio and at television stations in Iowa. Like KAZU listeners, Krista appreciates the in-depth, long form stories that are unique to public radio. She's pleased to continue that tradition in the Monterey Bay Area.