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They’re looking for bright smiles

The affluent face of Nevada County does not reveal that many children here lack adequate dental care.

According to statistics compiled by Dr. Becky Schultz, the dental coordinator for the Nevada County Health Department, kids here rank in the middle for California counties in dental health. However, the state ranks second to the bottom nationally next to Alabama, according to the national Centers of Disease Control numbers she discovered.

In a survey taken with third graders in the county’s Bright Smiles child dentistry program, Schultz found a substantial number of cavities.



The survey found 74 percent of poverty level students had cavities, while 46 percent in the non-poverty level had tooth decay. Nationally, the average is almost 59 percent, because cavities are the number one child ailment in America, Schultz said.

The numbers that bothered Schultz was that 37 percent of the poverty-level students in her survey were not getting treated and 12 percent of the more affluent children weren’t either.




“It’s the whole access to care issue,” Schultz said recently while working on a steady stream of students at Hennessy School. “They can’t afford it, or appointments aren’t available.”

There are only a handful of periodontists in the county who specialize in child dental care and many dentists who do not take MediCal or Healthy Families payments.

“Within Nevada County there are dramatic differences between kids in the poor and rich schools,” Schultz said. “The rich kids have fillings and the many of poor ones have rotten teeth.”

To combat the problem, Schultz gives lectures on proper dental care and works on students out of a mobile dentist’s office that fits into seven suitcases in the Bright Smiles program. The three-year program is funded by the Sierra Health Foundation and is also utilized at the Sierra Family Medical Clinic in North San Juan.

“It’s a free program but insurance is billed if they have it,” Schultz said. “Our goal is to reduce the rate of cavities 50 percent.”

That sounds good to Cori Bruce, the executive director at Sierra Nevada Children’s Services in Grass Valley. Bruce ran the Grass Valley Children’s Clinic for eight months in 2007, during which 2,000 county youths lined up for no-cost dental care.

Many of those patients were taken in by the Chapa De Indian Health Clinic after Bruce’s agency could no longer handle or afford the program.

“The need is basically there because a lot of people don’t qualify for insurance,” Bruce said. “We realized we could make reasonable changes in their lifestyle, like in nutrition,” to help stop decay.

“It’s the same as it is with regular medical insurance,” Bruce said. “With insurance, you get higher quality of care.”

A recently landed $5,000 grant from the American Dental Association will allow Bruce’s group to continue their dental care education for clients that come through on other matters.

“How you eat, floss and brush,” will be in the program, she said.

Both Bruce and Schultz want to keep the youth dental care programs going not only for health, but for the schools as well.

“The lack of dental care has a huge impact on schools with missed days,” of classes, Bruce said. “No child should be in pain and miss school, that’s preventable.”

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To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

Youth dental care programs

To learn more about youth dental care programs in Nevada County, contact:

• Nevada County Public Health Department, 265-1450

• Sierra Nevada Children’s Services, 272-8866


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