By Melissa Flores
California Health Report
While celebrities and golf professionals gathered at Pebble Beach as part of the AT&T Pro Am in February, a group of teenagers gathered under a tent in a rainy parking lot at the Twin Creeks Golf Course in Salinas to await appointments at a mobile clinic.
Christina’s Smile Children’s Dental Clinic has been following the PGA tour for 20 years, stopping in nearby communities to offer free dental services to low-income, uninsured children from ages 6 to 15. Christina’s Smile dental clinics are held in cooperation with the PGA Tour and Champions Tour, with some members of the tours on the advisory board for the nonprofit. Diane Stigler, the vice president of operations for Christina’s Smile, said scheduling stops in conjunction with the golf tournaments also helps to raise the profile of the nonprofit.
Working with local agencies, such as the Monterey County Office of Education’s Migrant Education Program, they provided dental care to 120 students over a three-day run.
Since starting the program, 47,000 children have been served across the United States.
“This is the sixth year the clinic has been offered to our county,” said Ernesto Vela, the coordinator administrator for the Migrant Education Program.
During a three-day stint in Salinas, the program provided care to 80 migrant students as well as 40 students from Santa Rita Elementary School, also in Salinas.
The Monterey County students reflect a statewide trend in lack of access to dental care for low-income or uninsured students. The Pew Center on the States graded each state on providing access to dental care for children in a report released in 2011. They gave California a C grade for meeting four of the eight benchmarks recommended to improve children’s oral health.
The study found that while 29 million children had dental coverage through Medicaid, only 12.9 million actually received dental services, nationwide. The Pew report notes that with the Affordable Care Act of 2010, more children will have access to dental insurance, but states will need to implement policies that support prevention and increases the number of providers available to offer services.
The Pew Center benchmarks for states include such goals as having sealant programs in at least 25 percent of high-risk schools, providing fluoridated water to 75 percent of residents and reimbursing medical care providers through its state Medicaid program for preventive dental services, among others.
From the outside, the Christina’s Smiles dental clinic looks like a typical semi truck trailer, but inside it has three dental stations with chairs set up, an x-ray area and a space to develop the x-rays, with storage for equipment. The traveling clinic, which has nine stops schedule across the United States, including a stop in Sonoma next October, is decorated with stuffed animals and bright colors to put children at ease. Volunteer dentists provide extensive care for the students that can include root canals, extractions, caps or fillings.
“Once dentists find out about it, they want to give back,” said Diane Stigler of Christina’s Smile. “They find it fun and very rewarding.”
In Salinas, some local dentists offered their time while on Feb. 8 some of the dentists came from other communities in California.
“It is imperative that we have people coordinate the children,” Stigler said, of working with the local schools. “The children all have an appointment – it’s not a walk up so we have to have that partnership.”
On the Friday morning of the clinic, staff memb