Dental caries, commonly known as cavities, is the most common chronic childhood disease. It affects adults as well, and the bacteria that cause caries can lead to other health problems. Yet with the proper care and education, caries are preventable. The problem is that many uninsured and underserved individuals do not have adequate access to that care and education, leading to wide disparities in oral health.
The Health Improvement Strategy
La Clínica de la Raza began delivering dental services in Pittsburg in 1999, when they bought a building to house dental services, administration, and community health education services. At the time, the building had six dental exam rooms.
In 2004, La Clínica expanded its dental services in Contra Costa County by hiring a dentist and entering the Dental Care Mobile Collaborative, which offers free dental services for children and youth through age 19. The Collaborative brings together La Clínica with John Muir Community Health Alliance, the Ronald McDonald House Charities, the Contra Costa County Health Services Save Our Smiles program, and Brookside Community Health Center. Also in 2004, La Clínica's Monument clinic opened its doors, replete with four dental exam rooms. In 2008, it added two more exam rooms.
But the demand for services has caused La Clínica to expand what it does in all three of these settings. In 2009, La Clínica is using federal stimulus funds slotted for capital improvements to double its space at its Pittsburg dental clinic, from six to 12 exam rooms. It will continue to offer discount exams to all ages, but because early childhood caries is a particular concern, La Clínica's dental services in Pittsburg will focus especially on serving children, by conducting more outreach.
At the Dental Care Mobile Collaborative, the partners have been refining what they do in response to increased demand and funding cuts. The collaborative is increasing the number of visits for screening, preventive work, extractions, and treatment at schools throughout Contra Costa.
Finally, at the Monument clinic, the purchase of a new building in Concord will enable La Clínica to double the number of exam rooms to 12 and, as with Pittsburg, increase the focus on children.