Children and Families Commission of Orange County Receives $12 Million Grant to Improve Oral Health for Low-Income Orange County Youth

May 8, 2017 | First 5 Commission News

  • Survey finds one in three children in Orange County has untreated tooth decay, a rate higher than the statewide average
  • Dental Transformation Initiative Grant will expand teledentistry services to more than 80 school and community sites

SANTA ANA, Calif. – May 4, 2017 The Children and Families Commission of Orange County announced today it has been awarded up to $12.2 million through a Dental Transformation Initiative Grant from the California Department of Health Care Services to improve dental care for youth ages 0 to 20 on Medi-Cal.

Tooth decay remains the most common chronic illness among children: a survey conducted by the Dental Health Foundation found that one in three children in Orange County has untreated tooth decay, a rate higher than the statewide average. Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease, resulting in more than 51 million lost school hours each year.

Commission officials said they will use this major new grant to significantly increase access to prevention and early intervention services through teledentistry, onsite dental services that are set up at schools and other community sites throughout Orange County.

“This Dental Transformation Initiative grant is an incredible opportunity to make great strides in dental health for young children, a crucial and needed area of improvement here in Orange County,” said Dr. Maria Minon, Commissioner of the Children and Families Commission of Orange County. “Working together with these great partners, we can expand teledentistry, an innovative concept we already know is working, to thousands more children in need.”

As of August 2016, there were more than 400,000 Orange County youth 20 years or younger living in poverty; 389,095 are Medi-Cal child beneficiaries. For this population, access to routine dental care is a considerable challenge.

The innovative, mobile teledentistry program, provided by Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County, will eliminate many of the most common barriers to quality dental care, such as lack of transportation, proximity to provider, or parents unable to miss work to take children to the appointment, according to Commission officials.

“Dental disease is the No. 1 chronic disease of children – more common than childhood obesity and asthma, and it is almost entirely preventable,” said Ria Berger, CEO of Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County. “Providing access to preventive services early in children’s lives provides a lifetime of benefits. This partnership will allow us to give a new generation of Orange County children access to dental diagnostics, preventive care, and early intervention services in a community setting.”

The teledentistry program will prioritize working with children enrolled at Title 1 public schools in which at least 80 percent of students are enrolled in the free and reduced price meal (FRPM) program and children attending early education and childcare programs, such as Head Start programs and California State Preschool Programs. Currently these populations have the lowest rates of dental preventive services and the highest rates of restorative or emergency dental care.

Within the multi-year grant period, Healthy Smiles will establish and operate 11 teledentistry units, called Virtual Dental Homes, or VDH, at 80 sites throughout the county. Potential new sites include 60 schools within Santa Ana Unified School District and 25 schools in the Anaheim Elementary School District, as well as 25 Head Start locations. All care provided at schools through the program will be free for Denti-Cal patients. An additional six VDH units will be established by community health centers throughout Orange County, upon completion of training from the University of the Pacific.

Teledentistry is a community-based oral health delivery system in which allied dental professionals, dental hygienists, and extended-function dental assistants are linked with offsite dentists through the use of teledentistry technology, cloud-based electronic dental records, laptops, and portable equipment. On-site, the hygienists and dental assistants will provide patients with professional cleanings, fluoride varnish applications, sealants and, if applicable, temporary fillings. The community dental team also collects electronic dental records such as x-rays, photographs, dental and medical history, and uploads these records to a secure website where they are reviewed by a dentist who creates a dental treatment plan. The VDH facilitates access to a full dental team and comprehensive dental care, and care coordinators work with families to ensure follow-up treatment is completed.

The program will be led by the Children and Families Commission of Orange County alongside three integral partners: Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County, acting as the main teledentistry provider, The Coalition of Orange County Community Health Centers, offering technical assistance for 11 community health centers wishing to provide new or expanded dental services for children, and Dr. Paul Glassman, DDS of University of the Pacific, whose team will provide training and assistance to implement the VDH model.

The Dental Transformation Initiative grant is designed to build a sustainable continuity of care model to be used locally and replicated in other regions of the state.

The Commission applied for the grant in September 2016 and was notified of the approval in February 2017.

About the Children and Families Commission of Orange County
The Children and Families Commission of Orange County oversees the allocation of funds from Proposition 10, which added a 50-cent tax on tobacco products sold in California. More than $24 million was allocated in FY 2015/16 to fund programs where more than 2 million services were provided to children ages 0-5. Funds help pay for early education, pediatric primary and specialty health care, children’s dental, homeless prevention, and child development programs for children from the prenatal stage to age 5 and their families. The Commission’s vision is that all children are healthy and ready to learn. For more information, please visit


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