Service With A SmileNovember 18, 2013
| As a child, Hiliana Murillo never went to the dentist. There was no need to go, her mother would say, unless something was wrong.
But as a single working mother, Murillo began to notice something wrong with the children's teeth in her Los Angeles neighborhood.
"My friend's son, he's almost 3, but he has silver teeth," Murillo said. "I got so scared. I said, ‘This is not going to happen to my daughter.'"
Murillo and her 2-year-old daughter, Valentina, found help at the Westside Children's Center Early Head Start Program, where she would get professional dental care every six months as part of the Virtual Dental Home Project that incorporates telehealth technology.
Using a portable dental chair, a laptop computer, a digital camera and a handheld X-ray machine, a specially trained dental hygienist provides oral health screenings to underserved children like Valentina at schools and community centers. Information about the child's oral health is uploaded to an office-based dentist who makes a diagnosis and develops a treatment plan.
"We're committed to supporting programs that use technology to improve children's lives," said First 5 LA program officer Kaya Tith.
Several years ago, First 5 LA commissioned a study on children's dental health that revealed an epidemic of tooth decay among young children living in L.A. County's poorest communities, Tith said.
Even when they want to see a dentist, many underserved children in L.A. County often have to wait extended periods of time.
"The average wait time for children to see a dentist is 34 days to several months," said Jenny Kattlove, director of Strategic Health Initiatives at Children's Partnership.
Transportation problems and conflicts with work prevent many low-income parents from traveling to the dentist.
"I was so happy when I learned there was a dentist at the school because sometimes there's not time to see one on my own," said Murillo, who works as a housekeeper.
And with, of course, a big, beautiful smile.
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