Twenty-six years ago Dr. Dan Tanita, a Richmond Rotarian, opened a tiny dental clinic for children, in a janitorial closet at the Peres Elementary School. The clinic closed after Dr. Tanita retired several years ago. When it did, Rotarian buddy Don Lau pledged to reopen the clinic “even if it killed me.” On Friday, March 3, the dental clinic officially reopened, now in a well-equipped purpose-built room, with a well-attended ribbon-cutting event.
Thanks to the cooperation of WCCUSD Superintendent Chris Hurst Jr.; the principal and staff at Peres School; Dr. Tanita’s business successor, Dr. Josh Rosales (pictured); volunteer dental staff; and Richmond Rotary—whew!—Don Lau is, happily, still among the living.
Good dental care is about more than preventing tooth decay. At the reopening event, Dr. Hurst pointed out that children’s academic success correlates closely to dental hygiene. (Read Dr. Hurst’s statement at the event, below.) Dr. Hurst also noted that WCCUSD is the first district to house dental services within one of its schools.
Dr. Tanita’s daughter Kimiko teared-up as she reflected on the impact of her dad’s community-mindedness continues long after he has passed away. Good works have a way of rippling out and improving people’s lives well into the future.
Dr. Hurst’s statement at the Peres School Clinic Reopening
Good morning. It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the reopening of the Peres K-8 Dental Clinic. This clinic is an exemplar of what services for the whole child can look like at a Full-Service Community School. We know that children with poor dental health are three times more likely to miss school than their peers, and children with tooth pain are four times more likely to have below average grades in school. Regardless of whether a child has dental insurance, the Peres clinic will provide them with routine dental care, including exams, x-rays, cleaning, and instruction on oral hygiene and nutrition.
The dental clinic at Peres was the first brick-and-mortar dental clinic in any WCCUSD school. I want to take a moment to honor the leadership of Dr. Dan Tanita, who originally opened the “Dr. Daniel Dental Clinic” in a janitor’s closet at Peres in 1997. In 2012, WCCUSD invested in the dental health of our students by creating a purpose-built clinic for Dr. Tanita’s work, and in doing so, became the first district to open a school-based dental clinic. Dr. Tanita’s legacy is one of innovation, persistence, and devotion to the Peres community. We honor his life and work as we stand here today.
I would like to recognize Dr. Joshua Rosales, who will be following in Dr. Tanita’s footsteps to provide dental services at the Peres K-8 Dental Clinic alongside volunteer dentists from the Richmond Rotary Club and volunteer dental hygienists and assistants.
Reopening the clinic has been a long-term effort led by members of our community who care deeply for the Peres K-8 community. I want to thank Don Lau, Community Service Chair for the Richmond Rotary and a past WCCUSD Board trustee, for his longtime leadership in service of the Peres K-8 dental clinic. This day would not be possible without his tireless efforts.
The agencies and voices present here today represent the integration of cross-sector funding with volunteer professionals and District resources. This kind of community collaboration is essential if we are to provide whole-child supports that truly transform our students’ ability to learn. We know that, when dental services are provided at a school over a number of years, dental health improves, which allows the clinic to serve other youth in the community. My hope is that we will also be able to reopen WCCUSD’s second in-school dental clinic, currently located at Coronado Elementary.