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Every child deserves a healthy smile

Every child deserves a healthy smile

At the tender age of 7, Amber already had a mouthful of painful cavities and a tooth so decayed that it needed to be pulled.  Her mother, Nancy Gama, a mother of two young girls with no dental insurance, felt like she had no options.  She struggled with what to do, knowing that she couldn’t afford expensive dental procedures to address the serious problems her young daughter was facing.

What Nancy experienced is not uncommon for the many families in Orange County who see dental health as a luxury that is beyond their financial reach.  

“There are many factors affecting health that need our attention,” says Todd Hanson, vice president of donor and community engagement for the Orange County Community Foundation. “One that doesn’t come to mind as often is oral health, but it can greatly impact our overall wellness.” 

Childhood tooth decay is a serious issue. It not only causes pain and discomfort, but can also lead to a lack of concentration, loss of nutrition, poor development of the teeth and even the spreading of bacteria to the rest of the body. 

“We screen throughout the county and regularly see children who aren’t able to access proper dental care because of a lack of insurance and other factors,” says Liz Bear, CEO of Garden Grove-based Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County.

But, as Bear explains, it isn’t just the uninsured who aren’t getting proper dental care. 

“Families with insurance don’t always take their kids to the dentist either,” she says. “Many parents only take their child to the dentist when they’re in significant pain or showing visible symptoms of a problem.  When cavities become painful, it means that they have already progressed to a more complex level and become difficult to treat, with potential long-term impact on the child’s overall oral health.”

For those who don’t have coverage, Healthy Smiles provides treatment services and also collaborates with partner organizations to ensure that patients receive the care they need. One such partner is the Gary Center in La Habra, which serves more than 5,000 people annually through dental and auxiliary programs, now including orthodontic care—providing low- or no-cost options. 

“I wish I would have known sooner that there are places that provide dental services for free or at a price that I could afford,” Gama says.  “Healthy Smiles worked with me on a sliding scale based on my income and now Amber is pain free with a beautiful smile.”

Gama has now found a dental home for her girls.  And she is committed to making sure Amber’s dental health is maintained and that her youngest daughter also sees the dentist regularly.  

But there are countless others who still don’t know that help is available. As Bear says, “We must continue to educate if we want to see a change in the dental health of children in our county.”

To learn more about groups working to provide dental and other health services in Orange County, visit Nonprofit Central at ocnonprofitcentral.org.

Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at shoss@oc-cf.org.

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