Some students in San Luis Obispo County are now able to receive dental care without leaving school thanks to a new program that brings a traveling team of dental hygienists to the classroom.
The program is funded through the State of California and Medi-Cal, a program that provides low to no cost health care for low income residents and former foster youth.
"We're taking care of all the kids' needs on campus: sealants, inter-oral pictures, x-rays, cleaning and fluoride," Central Coast Dental Coordinator for Lucia Mar Schools Ryan Valliere said.
The program started at the end of last school year but this is the first school year that the program is being offered from Fall to Spring.
It means students spend less time traveling to and from appointments and more time in the classroom.
"Leave the students in the classroom as much time as possible," San Luis Obispo County Health Education Specialist Paulina Flores Jiminez said.
Unlike the unfamiliar sterile room at a dentist office, the classroom is an environment where kids feel more comfortable.
"Part of our project is to make it less scary for the kids to go to a dental office," Valliere said.
Students in San Luis Obispo County's Title I schools, which are schools with 50 percent or more students receive free or reduced lunch, are eligible for the service.
According to Vallierre, eight out of the County's 11 elementary schools are classified as Title I schools.
The implementation of the traveling dental program comes as SLO County data reveals only half of the 25,000 Medi-Cal eligible students are receiving care.
"This program is about allowing the other 50 percent to access these services," Jiminez said.
"Our objective is to reach kids who are not getting taken care of and not getting proper healthcare needs," Valliere said.
Language barriers, transportation issues, and general fear of hospitals are among the many reasons parents aren't taking their kids to the dentist. County health officials believe regular dental appointments are necessary to prevent lifelong oral health issues.
"Receiving those preventative services and not waiting until the child has to be put under anesthesia because the damage has advanced," Jiminez said.
A dentist off-site reviews the students' charts to determine whether the patients need follow up care at a regular dentist office for cavities or other more serious issues.