The Creston Children’s Dental Clinic of Portland

By Dr. Kurt Ferré


Creston Children’s Dental Clinic is the only school-based dental clinic in Multnomah County, Oregon.  It has a long history dating back more than 50 years when the Assistance League of Portland (ALP) opened the doors to the clinic.  Due to capacity limitations, the ALP could no long sustain its operations, and the clinic was scheduled to close in early 2010.

In January, 2010 Dr. Dale Canfield, Lora Mattsen, Executive Director of the Multnomah Dental Society, and I met with one of Dr. Canfield’s patients, Duncan Campbell, who started a successful non-profit organization, Friends of the Children years ago, and Mr. Campbell outlined a template on “how to” set up a non-profit organization.

Thus, in February, 2010, a new non profit took over stewardship and operations for the clinic as the “Friends of Creston Children’s Dental Clinic” (FCCDC).  Easier said than done, however, because the IRS moves at it’s own speed, and it took almost 1 year to receive our official determination letter designating us as a non profit organization.  In order for us to be able to go out and do some immediate fundraising, we had to find a non-profit organization that could act as our fiscal sponsor.  Enter the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette.  Then president/CEO, Marc Levy, helped facilitate the process.  In a word, they were “great”, and they totally supported FCCDC without charging us any administrative costs.

So,  fund raising was our immediate task.  To keep the clinic open for the remainder of the school year (February to June 15th), we needed at least $30,000.00.  The Multnomah Dental Society donated $10,000.00, Lora Mattsen and I approached Multnomah County for $20,000.00 of emergency funding, and with the help of Commissioner Jeff Cogen and his chief of staff, Marissa Madrigal, the county commissioners voted 5-0 to grant our request.

Thus, with some breathing room, we began the task of building a sustainable model for FCCDC.  We wanted to return the clinic to a completely all volunteer clinic as regards to dentists and hygienists to reduce the clinic operating expenses.   Our first two recruits to board of director membership were Barry Rice and Sue Sanzi-Schaedel.  Mr. Rice is past executive director of the Oregon Dental Association, and now retired from his positions as an executive in ODS Company and Advantage Dental.  Ms. Sanzi-Schaedel is a retired public health hygienist with a MPH, having worked with Multnomah County Dental Health Department for over 30 years.

As Mr. Rice told me early on, our core quality that we wanted in any board members or future employees is that “their head bone has to be connected to their heart bone”.   Essentially, anyone directly involved with Creston has to believe in its mission.  Thus, we have recruited 3 addition board members, David Novitsky of the Daisey Company, Catherine Kittams, RN, a retired MESD school nurser in Multnomah County, and Jay Ward, a retired area sales manager with the A-Dec Company.  Our board is a working board, and they all bring long-time connections in the dental community to the table for the benefit of the clinic.

We have hired 3 wonderful employees:  1) Erica Soto, Administrative Director; 2) Annette Rotrock, lead dental assistant, who keeps everything running in the clinic area; and 3) Jenny Poach-Gagnon, our front desk extraordinaire (believe me, she does more than answer the phone and make appointments).  Both Ms. Soto and Ms. Poach-Gagnon are fluent in Spanish as our patient base is over 50% Hispanic.  While all the children are fluent in English, most of the parents speak little English, and it is wonderful having that resource to bring the families into the preventative picture to combat oral disease.  Lastly, we have an incredible grant writer, Eli Levine, who has helped the clinic obtain over $300,000.00 in grant funding.

In two years, the clinic has had a complete makeover.  First, we had the clinic completely painted and new furniture in the waiting area and back professional work area is all donated. We have 5 operatories, new A-Dec chairs, fiberoptic handpieces, and digital radiography, including panorex.  Again, much of this equipment was donated to FCCDC.  We have been amazed with the generosity of the dental community to help sustain the clinic.

With a good clinic infra structure in place, our focus is on the care of the low-income children in the Portland Public School System, ages 5-18, who lack adequate access to dental care.  We know that oral disease is a 100% preventable disease.  However, for this to be a reality, one needs education, prevention, and access to care.  We know that there are just too many holes to fill in our patient population.  Treating a disease and filling holes are not necessarily the same thing.  We need to go to the root causes of dental decay, and educate our patients in prevention.  This also means educating the parents of our patients in prevention.  We encourage every child in elementary school to sign up for the King Fluoride supplement program that is offered free to the children in Multnomah County schools (hopefully, someday soon we will see Portland’s public water supply fluoridated).

Our results have been most positive.  We now have a bulletin board full of patients’ photos who initially showed up with cavities, but at their next recall visit, they were cavity free, and now they are members of the “Cavity Free Club”.  It’s heart-warming to see how excited the kids are to get their photos on the wall.  We are looking to add additional bulletin boards, because we are almost out of space.

I’m embarrassed to say that I practiced 23 years before I did my first volunteer dental care.  I can honestly tell you that I get back in return from these children more than the sevices that I have been trained to deliver.  To break down the barriers for these children, to see a child, who was initially fearful about going to the dentist, and now love coming to Creston with a smile on their face……..priceless.

For those of you who are in a position to volunteer at Creston, try it.  I believe we’ve created a clinic and atmosphere that you will want to come back again.  If you are at a stage in your life when you cannot volunteer the time, please consider a cash donation in the form of a “Smile Scholarship”.  To learn more about Creston, visit us at


Dr. Ferré is a 1976 graduate of Northwestern University Dental School in Chicago.  He retired in December, 2008, after a 28 ½ year career with Permanente Dental Associates in Portland. He is past-president of the Multnomah Dental Society, and he currently serves on the board of directors for the Oregon Oral Health Coalition, the Oregon Dental Association’s Government Relations Council, and the dental advisory board for Medical Teams International (MTI).


One Response to “The Creston Children’s Dental Clinic of Portland”

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