Charles Meyer Goldstein, a dentist and USC faculty member who advocated community service and organized free dental clinics that treat thousands of poor people each year, died Sunday at his home in Brentwood from complications of multiple organ failure. He was 87.
As faculty director of the USC Mobile Clinic and later director of community outreach programs, Goldstein rallied USC dental students and with them served needy patients throughout California, including the homeless on skid row and migrant workers in the San Joaquin Valley.
In 1970, the year Goldstein was appointed director, the new mobile clinic was a bare-bones operation. Students traveled in donated Checker cabs and worked in a trailer. Patients -- migrant workers in the Central Valley -- sat in cardboard dental chairs.
Students benefited from hands-on learning, patients benefited from the care, and Goldstein established a tradition. Community outreach programs have become a signature of the USC School of Dentistry.
“I’ve got photographs of him pushing a broom, hauling equipment; he really set an example,” said Dr. Alvin Rosenblum, a longtime friend and colleague. “There are other people . . . who have helped develop operations to help the underserved who were students of his.”
Goldstein also provided dentists with the tools that made mobile dentistry and service to the poor possible. He designed mobile dental equipment, the vehicles needed to house the equipment and dental chairs that could be transported, Rosenblum said.
In addition to his work with USC, Goldstein was a key figure in the establishment of free dental clinics throughout the region: Synanon in Santa Monica, dental services at L.A. Free Clinic, a dental clinic for Native Americans and one at Union Rescue Mission on skid row.
The clinics serve patients -- adults and children -- who sometimes have never seen a dentist before. For patients who are ashamed to laugh because of the poor condition of their teeth or who are in pain, free care can open the door to a new, more confident life.
“You don’t have much esteem if you don’t have your front teeth,” Goldstein said in a 2000 Business Wire story. “Most of the people we see need really extensive work. We see a lot of missing teeth and decay. Some of these people haven’t seen the dentist for 20 years, and they don’t brush their teeth.”
Serving those in need was more than a job for Goldstein, it was a crucial element of his life’s philosophy, said his son, Jeffrey Goldstein.
“He thought the highest calling of humans was to serve [others],” his son said. “He did that as a dentist.”
Goldstein was born April 21, 1921, in Providence, R.I. His father was a businessman who relocated the family often; his mother was a housewife. By the time Goldstein was in high school, the family home was in San Diego.
Goldstein called himself the “accidental dentist.” After graduating from high school, he set his sights on a career as a veterinarian. When he could not find a California school that offered a veterinary degree, a friend suggested dentistry. “He said OK, and he loved it,” his son said.
In the early 1940s, Goldstein enlisted in the Navy, in which simultaneous with his service he studied dentistry. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a degree in dentistry from UC San Francisco in 1944.
Soon afterward he began private practice in Santa Monica and later in West Los Angeles. In 1967, he earned a master’s in public health from UCLA.
Goldstein’s affiliation with USC, where he held various appointments, began in 1959 when he became a part-time member of the periodontics faculty. He also was a professor in the Division of Health Promotion, Disease Prevention and Epidemiology and director of community outreach programs.
His service also crossed borders: Goldstein contributed to the founding of the school of dentistry at Tel Aviv University in the early ‘80s, Rosenblum said, and provided free care to Palestinian children in the 1970s.
Until recently Goldstein continued to teach and work with community clinics.
His dream was to create a $4-million endowment to fund the USC Mobile Clinic, a goal he was working on just before his death.
“He represented the best of professional dentistry through his selfless service, leadership and commitment to helping improve the quality of life and oral health of thousands of children,” said Dr. Bruce G. Toy, chairman of the California Dental Assn. Foundation, which presented Goldstein a humanitarian award the day before he died. “Goldstein’s endless compassion will live on through the lives he has touched.”
In addition to Jeffrey of Denver, Goldstein, who was a widower, is survived by sons Jonathan of Atascadero, Calif., and Joel of La Grande, Ore.; daughter Judith Walter of Agoura Hills; brother Mort Goldstein of Prescott, Ariz.; sister Clara Shapiro of Hollywood Hills; eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A memorial service is to be held at USC at a later date. Memorial donations may be made to the USC Mobile Clinic Gift Fund and sent to USC School of Dentistry, 925 W. 34th St., Suite 202, Los Angeles, CA 90089.