If you’ve noticed a lot more young people walking around town with healthy smiles, it’s no coincidence.
That’s because more than 100 local boys and girls received free dental work and cleanings on Saturday at Westminster Church on Lake Avenue in Altadena, courtesy of Young and Healthy and the USC Mobile Clinic.
Mary Donnelly-Crocker, executive director of Young and Healthy, said the clinic was in action all weekend with the focus being on kids who really needed the work.
“For the last couple of months, we have been recruiting kids who need dental work,” she said. “We’ve done it through (Pasadena Unified School District) and the whole community. We look for kids who need dental work and who can’t afford to go to the doctor. This is a big process. A lot of the work is done before today even starts.”
But there’s much more to the process than just getting X-rays and a cleaning, she added.
“Every child has to come into our office with their parents,” Donnelly-Crocker said. “There’s a whole health history that needs to be done. Paperwork has to be done before this even starts. There are a few conditions where children have to have medication on board beforehand — like antibiotics — so we do that. We have the ability to do 120 kids this week. We had 118 signed up.”
At any one time there were 36 youngsters being worked on, each with a supervising dentist and a student dentist, Donnelly-Crocker said, adding the actual dental work is not a one-day process.
“They came (on Friday) and got X-rays,” she said. “The dentist created a treatment plan for every kid. When the children leave their appointments today they’ll have a piece of paper with all the appointments they’re going to need for the next week. Some kids will need maybe one or two more visits. Some will have to come back to the dentist every day.”
She added there will be as much follow-up as possible for the kids to make sure they get the dental work they need.
“Everything that can be done in this setting will be done,” she said. “There are a few things that they can’t do here. Young and Healthy will get a list of all that after the clinic and then it’s our job to find that care for all of them. And USC helps with a lot of that.”
Donnelly-Crocker said Young and Healthy’s purpose is to help families with children in the Pasadena area who are unable to access quality healthcare services because they either lack or have inadequate health insurance.
She added having this clinic helps the organization meet its goals.
“We’re doing this because kids can’t afford to go to the dentist,” said Donnelly-Crocker, who added that the clinic has been held for more than 20 years. “And oral health is a huge indicator of your overall health. And people don’t understand how really important your mouth is. There are some awful things that can happen if teeth really get infected. … So, we’re trying to get ahead of that. We really don’t want that to happen.”
Whitney Harrison, program director for Young and Healthy, agreed with Donnelly-Crocker, saying many health issues can be prevented or avoided by having regular dental exams.
“It’s important because we know that dental care impacts so much more in your overall health,” Harrison said. “This is the one time a lot of our families are able to access dental care; and not just dental care, but quality dental care.”
So, what conditions can bad oral health cause or contribute to? Santosh Sundaresan, director of USC Mobile Clinic, said the links are many, including brain abscesses, diabetes, heart disease in young adults and even miscarriages.
“It is extremely important that they not only get their teeth checked out, but they get their teeth taken care of,” he said. “In this one week we will make the kids disease-free. We will take care of all their oral health issues and will make them disease-free from the mouth.”
In addition, Sundaresan said poor oral health also translates into too many kids staying home from school.
“Dental pain is the number two reason of (absenteeism) amongst students in school districts,” he said. “A cleaning can go a long way.”
Donnelly-Crocker also said not having enough insurance is almost as much of a problem as not having any at all.
“We sometimes have families who have insurance, but don’t have insurance that is going to cover this, so we do those families, as well,” she said.
Harrison said the health insurance system sometimes creates more problems than it solves, adding children are often the ones who suffer from these issues.
“Even if you have insurance, it’s not always that you’re able to get the care that you need,” she said. “There are a lot of barriers within the system and there is a shortage of providers for children. Not only are the kids able to get the care, but I think of the weight it takes off the parents’ shoulders. They just come one week and get it all taken care of.”
One student that was helped was 15-year-old Tomas Lopez. Lopez said without the mobile clinic he wouldn’t be able to get his teeth cleaned.
“I don’t know where I’d go without this,” he said.
Salvador Jauregui-Romero, a 17-year-old, said he is in the same situation as Lopez is without the mobile clinic.
“There’s no way I could do it,” he said.
For more information on Young and Healthy Pasadena or to donate to the organization, call (626) 795-5166 or visit yhpasadena.org.