By Kathy Chouteau
A “Passing of the Toothbrush” ceremony was celebrated Thursday at the free Dental Clinic that started in a janitor’s closet at Richmond’s Peres Elementary School in 1997, as the clinic’s founding dentist, Dr. Dan Tanita, retires to Arizona and Dr. Josh Rosales takes the helm. The clinic, which has been closed for about three years as Dr. Tanita stepped back and the pandemic hit, also marked its reopening.
Throughout the years, Dr. Tanita volunteered his expertise once or twice per month at the Peres Dental Clinic, which now has a larger and improved space since a school remodel years ago. He recently sold his separate private practice—San Pablo Smiles—to Dr. Rosales, who will volunteer his services at the school’s clinic just like his predecessor.
Joining the two dentists for the ceremony were members of the Peres school community, including Vice Principal Colette West and teachers, as well as members of the Rotary Club of Richmond, including Don Lau, Erle Brown, Darlene Drapkin and other Rotarians. Also on hand were Dr. Tanita’s assistant of 27 years, Charisse Le, and his daughter, Kimiko Tanita, who helped her father professionally.
According to Dr. Tanita, who joined the Rotary the same year as Lau in 1984, the club has been supporting the Peres Dental Clinic with $500 in annual donations for many years. He noted that much of its supplies were due to the club’s generosity. Further following in his predecessor’s footsteps, Dr. Rosales now calls himself a Rotarian as well.
Starting the ceremony, Lau referred to Dr. Tanita as “a real community hero,” adding, “I don’t think there’s anybody in this community who has given more…”
For his part, Dr. Tanita said that he didn’t know much about Richmond when he came here 40 years ago. “When I actually got here and started working here and made my livelihood here, I discovered it really was a gem of a community,” he said. “The people who work here are the ones who are lucky enough to see what a great city it is.”
Dr. Tanita shared that, back in the day, Peres Elementary got a Healthy Start grant for $9,000, and after a survey of parents revealed they wanted dental care for their children, they launched the free Dental Clinic in the janitor’s closet. He said that working in the school and teaching the students about dental health “was a real opportunity for us.”
The dentist would see one classroom per visit to the clinic and offer an examination, cleaning, polish and sealant. Dr. Tanita said the procedure was simple but made “a lifetime of difference in the kids’ health.” Later he added, “I’ve enjoyed private practice, but this [Peres Dental Clinic] is one of my favorite community service dental programs that I have experienced.” He thanked Peres Elementary, the Rotary and everyone who helped make it possible.
Dr. Rosales expressed gratitude to Dr. Tanita “for sharing his knowledge and expertise” and for “volunteering and providing care for these children that need and deserve the care…we appreciate everything that you do.”
He also provided updates on the newly reopened clinic, including that the Henry Schein Cares Foundation gave it “an abundant amount of supplies,” Contra Costa Health Services has given it PPE supplies and that they have connected with XDR Dental Imaging, whose equipment will allow the clinic to take digital X-rays to provide comprehensive exams—to name a few.
“It’s been very exciting to be part of this school and have the opportunity to introduce these kids early to dentistry and oral health,” said Dr. Rosales, who grew up locally. “It’ll just lead to a better overall wellbeing,” he said, thanking everyone who helped reopen the clinic.
Dr. Rosales is currently seeking volunteer dentists and dental hygienists at the Peres Dental Clinic so that he can expand the number of days they are open at the school. Those interested can contact him at [email protected].
The ceremony ended with Dr. Tanita passing a giant red toothbrush to Dr. Rosales, followed shortly by a champagne toast and celebration among supporters.