In Anaheim, one lucky group of children is getting the much-needed dental care they deserve with the help of a mobile teledentistry program provided by Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County.
According to an AACD survey, virtually all adults (99.7%) surveyed believe a healthy smile is socially important, but there’s no doubt that it’s medically important as well. Tooth decay is becoming increasingly common in younger kids, who either haven’t been taught proper oral hygiene habits or don’t have access to dental care.
What is teledentistry? Chief executive of Healthy Smiles Ria Berger explains:
“Imagine having a dental exam without meeting the dentist in-person, and in a classroom setting…[The students] meet with trained dental hygienists, the hygienists take their X-rays, upload them to a cloud-based system to a dentist and based on the data, they have 24 hours to confirm if kids need to be seen for a follow-up.”
For the parents of these children, these dental services are considered a luxury. Low-income households often have to reallocate medical funds for more immediate uses, which may be an underlying reason why missed appointments cost the healthcare system in the U.S. $150 billion every year.
Perhaps that’s also why one in four American adults avoid smiling due to the poor condition of their mouth and teeth. Teledentistry programs like those provided by Healthy Smiles can work wonders in getting children to improve their dental hygiene.
“It’s rather strange being in Orange County because people have this conception about who we are…a glossy magazine coastline where everyone has straight teeth,” Berger told the Los Angeles Times. “To the contrary, there’s a dental health epidemic and [the American Dental Assn.] has said that tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease.”
Children being unable to receive dental care has been a serious and growing problem for many years. Writer Adam Gaffney recently reported in an article in New Republic, “Some 114 million people lack any sort of dental coverage in the United States, and about half of children on Medicaid did not receive a single dental service in 2012. We could implement a system of universal coverage that would make treatment available on the basis of health needs, not means. But we have not.”
Luckily, the Orange County program is being expanded to give Healthy Smiles the ability to set up 11 different teledentistry units on 80 sites over the next few years. The sites are mostly inside Orange County schools, and with the help of a $12.4 million grant given last month to the Children and Families Commission of Orange County, Healthy Smiles can continue to provide necessary dental services to children in need.
“Even baby teeth are important in dental development,” said Esther Le, dental hygienist. “Whether it’s baby teeth or adult teeth, both can affect how we’re able to communicate and eat.”