Three percent of low-income children have the resources to fight tooth decay.
Melody Chiu | Daily Trojan
Media Credit: Gary Fung | Daily Trojan
Brushing right | A Dental School student used a dragon to teach Tenth Street Elementary School kids to brush their teeth.
2/4/08 - The USC School of Dentistry gave more than 500 students at Tenth Street Elementary School a reason to smile Friday when it provided many with their first visit to a dentist and their first exposure to proper oral hygiene.
The School of Dentistry partnered with Los Angeles Unified School District, Sen. Gil Cedillo, and the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation as part of the American Dental Association's "Give Kids a Smile" day.
Students received basic classroom instructions on how to properly brush and care for their teeth. They were given free basic screenings, and those who required sealants were sent to the USC Mobile Clinic set up outside the elementary school.
Tenth Street Elementary School was chosen because most students who attend the school come from low-income families who do not have the financial means to visit the dentist's office, said Meyerer Miller, a School of Dentistry project specialist administrator.
"We feel that a lot of the kids don't have access to proper oral hygiene," she said. "A lot of kids end up with infections because their parents can't take them to the dentist."
A study showed the number one reason children are missing school in LAUSD is because of tooth-related problems, said Angelica Urquijo, public communications manager for the School of Dentistry.
"We know there's a correlation between what happens in your mouth and what happens in the rest of the body," Urquijo said. "And that's our concern. We want to raise awareness."
Both Urquijo and Dr. Jennifer Holtzman, who manages the School of Dentistry Mobile Clinic, said they hope to prevent situations such as last year's shocking death of a 12-year-old boy in Maryland who lacked adequate dental care.
"They found bacteria in his brain that traveled from his tooth," Urquijo said. "If he had a basic $80 exam, he wouldn't have gotten infected."
The cost to provide care for each child is around $100, and the cost to provide care for just one decayed tooth is more than $2,000, she said.
USC School of Dentistry community outreach programs are funded by foundations and private grants, Urquijo said, but the school is concerned about the impact potential budget cuts on dental health care might have on low-income families.
"Some of the partners we have, such as clinics [that provide dental care], are under Medicare and Medicaid," Urquijo said. "How will parents who are trying to put food on the table and a roof over their heads pay for basic care?"
The most effective way of reducing tooth decay in children is by applying sealants, but only 3 percent of low-income children have them, Holtzman said.
"Teeth are important in the way we feel about ourselves, when we're speaking and eating," she said. "We have this power to do this wonderful thing by providing care."
LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia said 77 percent of the children in the district come from families that qualify as working-class.
The area is very under-resourced, and having the School of Dentistry as a partner is of utmost importance to LAUSD, Garcia said.
"It's a place where the needs and services are a match," she said. "We know that when kids have what they need, they do better in school."
Alon Dori, a third year dental student, said most of the kids he saw Friday were excited and eager to have their teeth checked, and many were in desperate need of oral hygiene instruction and dental care.
Nathan Hauck, a first year dental student who has volunteered at several elementary schools with the School of Dentistry, said while it took longer for dental work to be done because students provided the care, costs were cut significantly.
"We want to teach the kids about what causes cavities and how to brush properly," Hauck said. "But also, we just want to try to make them feel good about themselves."