YUCCA VALLEY — Preventing dental disease in children across the Morongo Basin is the goal of the Morongo Basin Healthcare District’s new dental program.

The new Virtual Dental Home Initiative was presented by Ronald A. Stewart, executive director of the district’s two health clinics, March 1.

The new program uses technology to link health center providers working in settings like schools throughout the Morongo Basin with dentists at other locations.

Dental disease is the No. 1 chronic disease of children, more common than obesity and asthma, and it is almost entirely preventable, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control. For children, providing access to preventive services early prevents dental disease.

The health care district was awarded a two-year, $531,720 grant from First 5 Riverside and San Bernardino and recently signed a contract to provide dental screenings for school-age children over the next three years.

The grant has two components. One is to provide virtual dental care, with a goal of serving 467 children annually. The second is assessment of young children’s oral health, with the goal of serving 2,400 children.

The health centers will use dentists and registered dental hygienists already on staff to provide the Virtual Dental Home program.

They will partner with Morongo Unified School District. Early discussions are focusing on Landers and Morongo Valley elementary schools to serve as the community site.

Stewart reported his team has had its first meetings with John Lowe, the principal of Landers Elementary.

The services provided in community locations include:

• Health promotion and prevention education.

• Dental disease risk assessment.

• Preventive procedures such as application of fluoride varnish, dental sealants and for dental hygienists, dental prophylaxis and additional procedures.

• Placing decaying teeth in a holding pattern to stabilize patients until they can be seen by a dentist for definitive care.

• Tracking and supporting follow-up dental services at the clinics.

A six-year demonstration project at the University of the Pacific indicated that two-thirds of the patients seen in Virtual Dental Home were able to get the care they needed at the community site, Stewart reported to the health care district’s board.

The new dental approach was developed by Paul Glassman, a professor of dentistry at University of the Pacific.

“California’s children are facing an oral health care crisis,” said Mayra Alvarez, president of The Children’s Partnership, a California-based national children’s advocacy organization. “The Virtual Dental Home helps bring critical, comprehensive care to children where they are.”

In August 2017, Morongo Unified Superintendent Tom Baumgarten shared his passionate plea to help the youth of the Morongo Basin with health and education.

“We have a great deal in common,” Baumgarten told the health care directors. “We want healthy kids! Your goals and our goals are very similar.”

The district board directed staff to work closely with Baumgarten on the future collaborations.

“We all want to make this community a better place and collaboration is the way to go,” Director Marge Doyle said.

The California State Auditor underscored the need in a 2014 report. It found that in 32 of California’s 58 counties there were too few dentists to serve children enrolled in Medi-Cal. Five counties had no active Medi-Cal dentists. In 11 counties, not a single dentist accepted new Denti-Cal patients.

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