SACRAMENTO — Nearly 28 percent of California’s children have untreated tooth decay, according to the 2006 California Smile Survey, Mommy It Hurts to Chew. Families with low incomes and people with complex medical conditions face considerable barriers to obtaining dental care and have significantly worse oral health than other segments of the population.
Now low-income children and adults at several California sites will be able to receive free dental care, thanks to a new telehealth project, the “Virtual Dental Home,” created by the University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, with support from the California Dental Association Foundation, California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF), the Paradise Valley Community Health Fund of The San Diego Foundation and the Verizon Foundation.
“The ‘Virtual Dental Home’ Project is innovative and effective and will allow many children to improve their oral health care who would otherwise go without care,” said Karma Bass, President & CEO, Alliance Healthcare Foundation and member of the Paradise Valley Community Health Fund Advisory Committee.
The four-year pilot project will expand and improve access to dental services by giving participating dentists the technological capability to review a patient’s dental records remotely with help from dental hygienists and dental assistants in underserved communities and then be able to recommend a plan for providing for the patient’s dental needs.
Dental hygienists and dental assistants will then perform preventive and temporizing restorative free dental treatment for the patient in the community setting. Patients needing further treatment by a dentist will be provided assistance in getting to a dentist’s office or clinic for completion of needed treatment.
Len Finocchio, senior program officer at CHCF said, “The Virtual Dental Home has the potential to serve as a national model for improving the oral health of our most vulnerable, particularly children.”
The groundbreaking project of free dental help will eventually operate in nine community locations including schools, nursing homes, and Head Start centers across the state in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, Sacramento and Northern California. Targeted populations include those who experience difficulty accessing care because of location, insurance status, and the inability to get into a private dental office or clinic. Significant funding for this pilot project came from CHCF, the Verizon Foundation, and the Paradise Valley Community Health Fund of The San Diego Foundation.
Project Director Dr. Paul Glassman, professor of dental practice at the University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, said: “This free dental care delivery model provides a much-needed community-based ‘virtual dental home’ for the state’s most vulnerable people, who will access dental services in their own communities as well as remove some of the barriers to receiving dental care in a traditional dental office setting.”
One of the project’s pilot sites, Meet Each Need with Dignity (MEND) in Pacoima, conducted a demonstration of the project last Friday. State Senator Alex Padilla, who was on hand for the demonstration said, “Even during budgetary constraints, this collaboration between University of the Pacific School of Dentistry, the California Dental Association Foundation and the funding community demonstrates that we can still bring innovation and technology to address the critical needs of our community.”