What: CommuniCare’s Dental Program has four locations — Davis, Woodland, West Sacramento and Esparto.
“You doing OK?” Barry Chang, D.D.S., asks his 5-year-old patient. Then a moment later, “Are you still doing OK?”
Osvaldo Ortiz nods his head and Dr. Chang continues to fill the cavity in Osvaldo’s front tooth.
Watching quietly in the room is Osvaldo’s mom, who says she is grateful for the dental care her children receive at CommuniCare’s Salud Dental Clinic in West Sacramento. Through an interpreter she says in Spanish, “They take good care of us and treat us well. Everyone here is friendly and courteous and I feel very confident bringing my kids here for their dental care.”
According to Dr. Chang, CommuniCare’s dental director, “Dental decay is the number one health problem for school-aged children. Children with untreated cavities often miss school and can’t focus on their studies due to the pain.
“Parents used to think they didn’t have to worry about their child’s baby teeth,” Chang continued. “But decay in the first teeth will affect the long-term dental health of the permanent teeth and their formation if the baby teeth are infected.
“Also, if we have to extract a baby tooth and the secondary tooth is not ready to come in, sometimes the position for the tooth does not stay open for the permanent tooth and the eruption path is negatively impacted. That can lead to braces.”
Julie Gallelo, executive director of First 5 Yolo, wants parents and families to know dental care is available for young children in Yolo County — regardless of the family’s income or insurance status.
“We believe it is critical for children to see a dentist at a young age, even if they don’t have any visible problems,” she said. “Receiving fluoride varnish, learning how to brush correctly and becoming comfortable seeing a dentist help a child develop lifelong habits for healthy teeth.”
Through its Integrated Family Support Initiative, First 5 Yolo has given CommuniCare a seven-year grant to support expanding access to dental care for children from birth through age 5 and pregnant women.
The First 5 Yolo Children’s and Families Commission’s investment in oral health over the past five years has totaled more than $1.2 million and has improved access to dental care for children ages 0-5 and pregnant women throughout the county.
One indication of this success is that 11 percent more children (from 58.9 percent in 2009 to 69.9 percent in 2013) are seeing a dentist by their third birthday, as revealed by First 5 Yolo’s Kindergarten Enrollment Survey findings.
Another indicator of success is the decrease in visible and urgent tooth decay in Yolo County children. The CommuniCare Smile Savers program screens Yolo County school children at elementary schools with a 50 percent or greater enrollment in the federal school lunch program.
They have noted a steady improvement from 2008-09 of 32 percent of the kids with visible or urgent tooth decay to 25 percent during the 2011-12 school year.
During the 2012-13 school year, nearly 2,000 children participated in Smile Savers’ dental screening and education program.
Dr. Chang advises parents to bring their child in to see a dentist once they have noticed the first tooth has fully erupted; usually at 6 months to 1 year old. This helps the child get familiar with a dental office setting.
Parents are given information about oral health for their child and, if the child is cooperative, the dentist will do a visual exam and possibly even apply fluoride varnish.
As the child gets older, they should come back every six months to get a cleaning done and application of fluoride varnish, and when the child is old enough, to get some X-rays to set a dental benchmark from which future tooth decay is easier to spot.
Prevention is emphasized and parents are given information about diet, brushing habits and snacks that impact tooth decay. According to Chang, crackers can be more detrimental to baby teeth than chocolate milk since liquid is easier to flush out than starch, which will stick to the teeth if it is not brushed out.
Although the number of pediatric dental providers accepting Medi-Cal is limited in Yolo County, CommuniCare’s Dental Program provides care to children insured by Medi-Cal at no cost. If the child does not have Medi-Cal, or another form of insurance, the dental clinic provides care on an income-based sliding scale.
CommuniCare’s Dental Program provides the full scope of dental services for patients of all ages, and emphasizes preventive care and oral health education at every visit. Services include dental exams and preventive care, X-rays, gum therapy, cleanings, sealants, emergency care for acute infection and pain relief, fillings, extractions and root canals.
Chang wraps up Osvaldo’s appointment by giving him a “high-five” and says, “You are going to have nice teeth. You are going to need to take care of them and brush regularly. Are you doing that?”
Osvaldo smiles and nods his head.