Oral surgeons on hand at free clinic

LOS ANGELES Being on the floor of the Los Angeles Sports Arena might give you an idea of what it is like to practice medicine in a battlefield.

But just a few 100 feet away unemployed musician, Anthony Enriquez, found an oasis of tranquility on Thursday.

"I have a lower back problem," said Enriquez. "I think the stress of everyday life goes to my back."

Enriquez went to the Remote Area Medical clinic to get dental care, but was surprised to learn that they offered acupuncture. It was just what he needed.

"A couple of people came out and said that they had it done because their neck and back was hurting," said Enriquez. "When they came out they were smiling and were happy. They said it works. I am down to try anything at least once."

Volunteers with the Taiwanese Buddhist Medical Tzu Chi Foundation are offering acupuncture as a compliment to the western medical procedures.

It may be the last thing people without insurance are looking for, but organizers say it is an inexpensive way to get to the root of what maybe causing patients health problems.

"If they go to western medicine, maybe take some pain killer, but actually it does not solve the problems," said Dr. Jeng Cheng.

Not everybody understands what acupuncture can do. For many new patients like, Iretha Warmsley, it is an opportunity to try something new.

"To me this is an alternative to going and getting my leg cut open, or some X-ray that I do not need," said Warmsley.

The pain and stress of everyday life takes a toll on people who are uninsured and unemployed. In the first two days the Tzu Chi Foundation performed 500 acupuncture procedures. Down the hall volunteers also offer chiropractic care.

And for someone without insurance alternative medicine is a great way to address some of the stress and pain without the high cost.

RAM volunteers say they served about 3,500 dental patients last year. This year, volunteers hope to reach 5,000 patients by being more efficient this time around.

Mother of two Rosa Perez has been living with a broken tooth for more than a year and came to the clinic to get an extraction.

"A lot of pain, and I haven't been able to eat that well," said Perez.

Besides an army of dental hygienists doing nonstop cleanings, RAM has a larger number of volunteer oral surgeons and root canal specialists than they did last August.

"Root canals are like over $1,500 worth of work, and the patients are very happy to get it," said Dr. Mehrdad Makhani, a dentist volunteering his time at the free clinic.

Makhani said he expects volunteer dentists will see about 5,000 by the end of the mission Monday. Not everyone can get their dental work done in the interest of being able to help more people. To meet their goals, RAM needs more medical professionals to come and volunteer.

Oral Surgeon Lee Akin from Loma Linda answered the call.

"When you don't have any money, and you're out of work and down on your luck, the small things like just getting a tooth out that hurts can make a big difference," said Akin.

"A lot of people can't get their basic needs met as far as getting a pair of glasses or getting dental done," said patient Gwen White, who said she needs a root canal.

"Los Angeles is not a remote area and the need is tremendous and we had turned away already a few thousand patients because we didn't have any more bracelets to give out, and that's unfortunate," said Makhani.

RAM said that they have a good number of dentists, but they said they can use more dental assistants because it's really difficult for dentists to do their work without some help. All you need to do to help is come to the door and show your license.

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