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Domestic abuse survivor given new teeth, reasons to smile. ‘I feel like a different person’

Watch Fresno woman get new teeth through ‘Second Chance’ program

Maxillofacial Surgery & Dental Implant Center's Second Chance program helps people with extensive tooth loss and other oral health issues who are unable to afford proper treatment.
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Maxillofacial Surgery & Dental Implant Center's Second Chance program helps people with extensive tooth loss and other oral health issues who are unable to afford proper treatment.

Erlinda Vargas beamed in a Fresno dental office Monday following a procedure giving the 34-year-old mother new permanent teeth.

“You can comfortably chew on a steak – a well-done steak!” Dr. Sam Namdarian said excitedly.

Vargas is looking forward to it. She’s spent a long time living off softer foods, such as eggs, cheese and peanut butter, because chewing was painful.

A couple years ago, she had only 15 of her 28 teeth, and seven of the ones she had were severely decayed, Namdarian said.

Vargas was selected to receive a free implant-supported denture – essentially, new permanent teeth screwed into her upper jaw – through a Second Chance program by Fresno Oral Maxillofacial Surgery & Dental Implant Center. The center did two oral surgeries for Vargas and partnered with Namdarian of Fresno Smile Makeovers, along with a couple implant and prosthesis companies, to bring Vargas her new smile.

“Even before they were even done, through the process I started to feel better about myself,” Vargas said.

Vargas grew up with little, and without seeing a dentist regularly. She said she also grew up in a household with domestic abuse.

Of her new smile, Vargas said, “It’s like I was dead and then I woke up.”

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Dr. Sam Namdarian checks the bite of Erlinda Vargas of Fresno after placing her new implant-supported permanent denture at Fresno Smile Makeovers in Fresno on Monday, March 4, 2019. Vargas is the first recipient of the Fresno Oral Maxillofacial Surgery & Dental Implant Center’s Second Chance program to help people with extensive tooth loss and other oral health issues but who are unable to afford proper treatment. Vargas suffered through domestic abuse in her family as a child and did not receive proper dental care, which led to her oral health issues. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Before receiving her new teeth, she said she was depressed and in a “dark place.” She used to avoid going to public places because “every time you talk, you show your teeth.”

Vargas was selected in 2017 for the Second Chance program from a pool of 400 applicants. She is the first to receive free services via the program, which aims to help community members with oral health issues.

Fresno Oral Maxillofacial Surgery & Dental Implant Center plans to search for other deserving candidates at a later time. The next Second Chance program application period will be announced on the center’s Facebook page.

The free dental work Vargas received would have cost more than $30,000.

Vargas has three children – ages 2, 4 and 9 – and works in the day care at Saint Agnes Medical Center.

“I’m just so happy,” Vargas said of her new smile. “I feel like a different person.”

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge

Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and nine first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.
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