Nearly 28% 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, the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF), the Paradise Valley Community Health Fund of The San Diego Foundation, and Verizon.
“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 and CEO of the 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 patients’ dental records remotely with help from dental hygienists and dental assistants in underserved communities and then be able to recommend a plan for providing care. Dental hygienists and dental assistants can then perform preventive and temporizing restorative treatments for patients 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 will eventually operate in nine community locations including schools, nursing homes, and Head Start centers 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 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 removes some of the barriers to receiving 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. California State Senator Alex Padilla, who was on hand for the demonstration said, “This collaboration will improve access to dental care in the San Fernando Valley. I applaud the efforts of all who have committed this partnership.”
In the early 1970s, MEND (Meet Each Need with Dignity) opened its doors in an effort to transform the lives of the neediest residents of the San Fernando Valley — poor children and their struggling families. Starting as a small group of volunteers working from a garage, MEND has grown primarily by word-of-mouth into one of the leanest operating nonprofit organizations in existence. More than 94% of the support and donations received by MEND, now the largest poverty agency in the Valley, provides emergency food, clothing, medical, vision and dental care, job skills training and job placement assistance, English as a Second Language classes, youth activities, and a Christmas program. In 2008, MEND served over 368,969 individuals.
About the University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry
The University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry’s vision is to be a leading agent in the improvement of health by the advancement of oral health. Accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, academic programs include Doctor of Dental Surgery, International Dental Studies, Advanced Education in General Dentistry, Graduate Orthodontics and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene. Hallmarks include innovators of the humanistic model of education; only U.S. dental school to offer a three-year DDS program; strong clinical and practice management program; emphasis on leadership; and giving back to the profession and community.
About the California Dental Association Foundation
The CDA Foundation was formed as the philanthropic affiliate of the California Dental Association in 2001 with the mission to improve the oral health of Californians by supporting the dental health profession and its efforts to increase access to care for the state’s most vulnerable people. The CDA Foundation works with experts in the dental profession, private business, academic institutions, and government to produce programs that increase access to care, promote prevention education and intervention, advance health policy research and build a sustainable oral health workforce.
Verizon Communications, headquartered in New York, is a global leader in delivering broadband and other wireless and wireline communications services to mass market, business, government, and wholesale customers. Verizon Wireless operates America’s most reliable wireless network, serving more than 87 million customers nationwide. Verizon’s Wireline operations provide converged communications, information and entertainment services over the nation’s most advanced fiber-optic network.
About The San Diego Foundation
Founded in 1975, The San Diego Foundation is a broad-purpose community foundation helping individuals, families, and organizations carry out their charitable plans, with the common goal of improving the quality of life in the greater San Diego region, now and for generations to come.
About the California Health Care Foundation
The California Health Care Foundation is dedicated to advancing meaningful, measurable improvements in the way the health care delivery system provides care to the people of California, particularly those with low incomes and those whose needs are not well served by the status quo. We work to ensure that people have access to the care they need, when they need it, at a price they can afford.