Tooth decay is the most prevalent unmet health care need among children from low-income families and the most common preventable illness. Recent findings from the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) show that one in three children between the ages of 1 and 5 years across the Southern California region did not have access to dental insurance and a third had never visited a dentist. A recent study revealed that 54% of California kindergartners have untreated tooth decay, a figure that’s echoed at Ventura County dental screenings. Compounding the situation is a scarcity of local pediatric dentists.
First 5 Ventura County and several of its funded partners have responded to this need with an innovative oral health outreach and capacity building program that’s taking a multi-faceted approach.
“Many young children simply don’t visit the dentist. So we have a program that integrates oral risk assessments and fluoride varnish with regular pediatrician and family doctor visits,” explains First 5 Director, Claudia Harrison. “And we have recently kicked off a promising program through which volunteer dentists visit preschool sites to provide screenings and fluoride varnish in a safe and familiar environment.” According to Harrison, the new Adopt-a-Preschool program has the additional benefit of helping children and dentists become comfortable with one another, providing a foundation for future oral health care.
First 5 also funds mobile and office-based outreach services through the Ventura/Santa Barbara Dental Care Foundation and Clinicas. The result: nearly 4,000 children received fluoride varnish applications at doctor’s office visits last year alone, dramatically reducing their risk for dental caries, decay and related health problems. Mobile outreach dentists provided 3,600 children last year with preventative care and dental treatments and several volunteer dentists have already connected with local preschoolers to provide fluoride varnish and dental screenings.
Ventura County is not alone in these efforts. According to an independently produced research report, the eight Southern California First 5 commissions have expended some $21 million and made quality oral health care available to nearly a quarter of a million youngsters, or one out of every 11 children age 5 and under in the Southern California counties.
“First 5’s commitment to oral health as a priority has resulted in California’s children receiving critical oral health services that have not only improved the children’s oral health status, but also each child’s overall well being, said Jon R. Roth, executive director of the California Dental Association Foundation..”
Tooth decay is a growing problem among Southern California’s young children and, when left untreated, can contribute to a wide range of problems, including poor nutrition, sub-normal growth, and unnecessary pain. And tooth decay is estimated to cause children to miss over 51 million hours of school each year.