By Kathy Chouteau
In 1997, Dr. Dan Tanita started a free Dental Clinic in a janitor’s closet at Richmond’s Peres Elementary. Today, the clinic has relocated to a much larger space at the K-8 school, with state-of-the-art equipment and a new volunteer dentist, Dr. Josh Rosales.
On Friday, March 3, the Rotary Club of Richmond joined Dr. Rosales and an enthusiastic group of community leaders, school personnel and other supporters to celebrate the clinic’s reopening. The event followed a pandemic pause and the retirement and September 2022 passing of its dedicated volunteer founder, Dr. Tanita.
Dr. Rosales, who has also assumed responsibility for the late Dr. Tanita’s private practice, San Pablo Smiles, sees approximately six school children per visit on Fridays at the Peres Dental Clinic between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Aside from a dental check-up, Dr. Rosales said they review nutritional counseling, and how to brush your teeth and floss properly. He said the dental clinic is “fully equipped with X-ray technology…and a panoramic machine, so we can see the development of the teeth for the kids.”
The dentist said that donations, perhaps from dental companies, would enable the dental clinic to offer some more comprehensive plans/services, like fillings, and to perhaps see some people from throughout the greater community.
West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) Superintendent Dr. Chris Hurst shared with the group that children with poor dental health are 10 times more likely to miss school than their peers. Children with tooth pain are four times more likely to have below average grades in school, he added, and said the clinic is “an exemplar of what services for the whole child will look like at a full service community school.”
Also at Friday’s ceremony were Don Lau and other Rotary Club of Richmond members—who have financially and otherwise supported the clinic since 1999—and Dr. Tanita’s longtime assistant, Charisse Chin-Le and his daughter, Kimiko Tanita, who assisted her father professionally.
Lau said that Dr. Tanita was drawn into Peres Elementary by the correlation between good dental health and doing well in school. When Lau became president of the Rotary Club in 1999, he decided that it was “important that our Rotary Club support what [Dr. Tanita] was doing here and also support the school.” He said that, “ever since then, we’ve always had a presence here.”
WCCUSD Superintendent Dr. Hurst echoed Lau’s thoughts on Dr. Tanita’s legacy, saying it is “one of innovation, persistence and devotion to the Peres community.”
Contra Costa County Superintendent John Gioia also came out to the Dental Clinic’s reopening, and noted that what Dr. Tanita accomplished “is a perfect example of how someone just believes in cutting through bureaucracy and cutting through process to roll up his sleeves and just say, ‘I want to get this done’—and come into a closet and do dentistry.”
Friday’s event culminated in a ribbon cutting at the newly reopened Dental Clinic and its new dental custodian, Dr. Rosales, proudly showing it off to the community.