OC nonprofit helps bring ‘healthy smiles’ to students

Tooth decay is one of the most prevalent chronic childhood illnesses. Yet it’s almost 100 percent preventable with proper care and regular visits to the dentist. 

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, dedicated to bringing oral health awareness everywhere. It’s also a good time to highlight the work being done by Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County, a nonprofit organization founded in 2003, which exists to provide clinical pediatric dental care and education for children and families.

dentist working on a child's mouth

Healthy Smiles now operates one of the largest “teledentistry” programs in the nation. It’s a service that no longer requires a parent to take their child to the dental clinic to get their teeth checked.

The program is designed to bring the dental office directly to a student’s classroom to eliminate transportation barriers. A team of dental professionals travel to campuses and are equipped with tools necessary for routine dental exams.

Originally piloted at Centralia Elementary School District, teledentistry is now being offered at the Anaheim Elementary, Anaheim Union High and Santa Ana Unified school districts.

Heroes Elementary School in Santa Ana Unified recently introduced teledentistry to students, becoming the 18th school to offer this program in Orange County.

According to the nonprofit, studies have shown that 51 million school hours are lost each year due to dental-related incidents — not to mention the $1.9 billion cost in dental-related emergency room visits. Healthy Smiles’ mission is to reduce oral disease in children through collaborative programs aimed at prevention, education, treatment and advocacy.

“If you see a Smile Mobile at a school or community site in Orange County, it means we’re there providing free education and dental services for children,” said Chief Executive Officer Ria Berger. “We have provided mobile dental services to kids in the community since our inception. We are grateful from the support of teachers, principals and community partners by allowing us to be present and available for children when it comes to meeting their dental needs.”

Healthy Smiles will be hosting two upcoming open houses for Orange County educators to provide information on how more schools can take part in the teledentistry program. The open houses are March 6 and March 15 at the Healthy Smiles Garden Grove clinic. For more information visit https://healthysmilesoc.org/schools/.