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Giving Every Kid a Reason to Smile

Giving Every Kid a Reason to Smile

Dental disease is the No. 1 chronic disease of children, even more common than obesity and asthma. Although it’s almost entirely preventable, one out of three Orange County children has untreated tooth decay. Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County has been grappling with this epidemic since 2001, and now, with its new Smiles X-Press program, children living in some of Orange County’s most impoverished neighborhoods are getting a high-tech, high-touch way to access preventative dental care.

Based on the success of its prevention and outreach programs, Healthy Smiles has been selected to pilot the first Orange County-based Virtual Dental Home program. This community-based oral health delivery system links on-site dental professionals, dental hygienists and dental assistants with off-site dentists through the use of teledentistry technology, cloud-based electronic dental records, laptops and portable equipment.

Healthy Smiles selected Danbrook Elementary in Anaheim as the inaugural school site for its Smiles X-Press program because families in the neighboring community lack resources and access to basic needs. Healthy Smiles expects to offer Smiles X-Press to three other Orange County unified school districts and 24 Head Start programs by spring 2017. All care provided at schools through Smiles X-Press will be free for Denti-Cal patients.

The nonprofit hopes its Smiles X-Press program will increase awareness of the importance of dental care and eliminate barriers many families face in accessing care. Many parents say an inability to pay for services, lack of transportation to dental clinics or having to miss work – and give up much-needed income – to take kids to appointments prevents them from seeking regular care. However, by housing the teledentistry program on campus, Healthy Smiles is making it easier for families to navigate the health care system and ensure their kids get access to quality dental care.

“The school-based setting also will help students feel more comfortable accessing professional dental care,” said John C. (Jack) Shaw, founding president of Healthy Smiles and immediate past president of its executive committee.

Shaw, a retired Deloitte International executive who has devoted the past two decades to launching innovative solutions to critical community needs, recognized the need for families in Orange County’s lowest-income communities to access preventative dental care and oral health education. He helped spearhead alignment among Children & Families Commission of Orange County, St. Joseph Hospital and the nonprofit El Viento (which he also founded) to improve oral health care services for the children of Orange County, an initiative that became Healthy Smiles in 2002.

“Watching kids and parents is the biggest reward of my involvement,” he said. “There’s nothing like seeing these kids go in to get treatment and come back out with restored mouths. They have a smile on their faces, and you realize they won’t be in pain anymore.”

According to Ria Berger, Healthy Smiles CEO, providing access to preventative dental services affords immediate results plus a host of lifetime benefits.

“When children are free from active dental disease, they miss fewer days of school and are better able to learn,” she said. “They also enjoy the benefits of higher-quality nutrition and experience improved self-esteem. Smiles X-Press will allow us to expand the success of our prevention and outreach programs, and give a new generation of Orange County children access to dental diagnostics, preventative care, and early intervention services in a community setting.”

As part of Smiles X-Press, hygienists and dental assistants on-site at schools will provide patients with professional cleanings, fluoride varnish applications, sealants and, if applicable, temporary fillings. The community dental team also collects electronic dental records such as x-rays, photographs, dental and medical history, and uploads these records to a secure website where they are reviewed by a dentist who creates a dental treatment plan. The Virtual Dental Home facilitates access to a full dental team and comprehensive dental care and care coordinators work with families to ensure follow-up treatment is completed.

Smiles X-Press is made possible through funding provided by Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian along with private foundations and donors.

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