Brandon Call ran the Pocatello Free Clinic’s dental department for two years as his college job while he earned his undergraduate degree at Idaho State University.
Call was tasked with ordering supplies, scheduling patients — and mostly recruiting local dental professionals willing to volunteer their time.
He’s now known as Dr. Call, and he hasn’t forgotten the Pocatello Free Clinic. For the past year, the 32-year-old dentist has volunteered at the clinic on a monthly basis, providing free care for locals who can’t afford it. He’s been a central figure in the resurgence of the clinic’s dental program, which was greatly diminished when he made his return.
“It was kind of full circle to come back and participate in the program I’d spent a few years getting other dentists to volunteer for,” said Call, who graduated from dental school at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2019.
A few weeks ago, ISU dental residents started donating time at the clinic. Furthermore, Meg Long, a dental hygienist who serves on the clinic’s board of directors, recently retired from teaching dental hygiene at ISU and plans to start volunteering regularly at the clinic after the first of the year. Long, who still works in private practice, also hopes to recruit some recently retired colleagues to help with cleanings at the clinic.
“If we could get one hygienist in there an afternoon or a morning a week that would be great,” Long said.
Students with ISU’s dental hygiene program have provided care for the clinic as part of their clinical rotations for several years. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, however, they’re offering the free service on campus instead. Long said there are also some dentists in town who have agreed to see a patient or two from the clinic for free at their own facilities.
“We have to rely on volunteers and sometimes that’s just the holdup,” Long said.
The clinic is now outfitted with modern dental equipment procured with grant funding from the Portneuf Health Trust.
Long said most local dentists don’t accept Medicaid due to the poor reimbursement rate. She said there’s a huge need for free dental care in the community.
“Oral health is the start of general health and we have so many people who just can’t afford private practice dental care,” Long said.
During Call’s Nov. 19 session at the Pocatello Free Clinic, Long witnessed him extracting seven teeth from a patient who had been to the hospital emergency room twice due to the infection caused by his tooth decay. She explained the emergency room could only give him antibiotics to treat his symptoms.
“(Dr. Call) has always had a heart for it and he said, ‘Someday I’ll come and I’ll give back,’ and he’s doing that,” Long said.
Call had his first experience with helping people in need improve their oral health when he was just 12 years old. His Eagle Scout project involved collecting dental supplies. He took them to Peru, where he helped his parents administer free dental care.
“It was really enjoyable and it was good as a kid to see what was out there in the world really, compared to what we’re blessed with in Southeast Idaho in general,” Call said.
Call emphasized that there are also plenty of people in need to help within his own community. He usually works one Thursday evening per month at the clinic, seeing patients from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“We’re seeing patients who haven’t been to a dentist in multiple years and have lots of issues,” Call said. “The way I see it is there’s plenty of humanitarian work that takes place in our local community. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to provide some of those services.”