Dental disease starts young, so should oral healthcare

Brushter, Gumster and Toothster are the spokes-characters of L.A. County’s “Love Your Baby’s Teeth” campaign, which launched on multiple media outlets last month.


Oral health advocates from public agencies, private foundations, community groups and L.A. Unified explored how to improve children’s dental care starting at an early age at The L.A. Trust’s quarterly Oral Health Advisory Board meeting March 16.

Dr. Abrey Daniel of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health introduced the county’s extensive new Love Your Baby’s Teeth education campaign, launched during Children’s Dental Health Month in February. The campaign features TV, radio, PR and social media.

Daniel said one-quarter of L.A. children age 2 to 4 have tooth decay, and 55% of all lower-income children have dental disease, which is more prevalent in Black and Latinx communities.

“Families where Spanish is (mainly) spoken are at the greatest risk” in L.A. County, Daniel said.

The county’s multilingual campaign includes heavy use of Spanish-language media, and features such elements as dental office posters, bus shelter ads, exam table paper with campaign messages, and giveaway mirror clings to remind kids to floss and brush. The campaign has already reached hundreds of thousands.

Smile, California

Dr. Puja Shah, Medi-Cal outreach consultant, reviewed the California Department of Health Care Services’ “Smile, California” campaign, designed to build awareness and use of the benefits available from Medi-Cal Dental.

The tagline of the campaign is “Medi-Cal Has Dental Covered.” Key messages include getting a child’s first check up by their first birthday; seal today to prevent decay; and Medi-Cal covers dental during pregnancy. The comprehensive outreach includes robust websites in Spanish and English connecting patients and providers, a partner program enlisting community groups and a toolkit with materials for children and family members.

 Shah also noted that the agency was improving its online complaint system so patients can report providers who refuse them care.

More outreach and updates

Cynthia Cervantes, Oral Health Collaborative Consortium liaison from the UCLA School of Dentistry, gave an update on the consortium, which is funded the California Department of Public Health’s Office of Oral Health.

Cervantes stated that the mission of the OHCC is to “support and facilitate the implementation of the L.A. County Community Oral Health Strategic Plan (COHIP) throughout L.A. County through community outreach and leadership in each of four Mega Service Planning Areas. She gave examples of outreach at faith-based organizations, Los Angeles Public Library branches, medical clinics and daycare centers. The consortium will host Oral Health Summits in 2021 and 2022.

Susan Flores, senior policy coordinator from the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, updated OHAB members on Medi-Cal dental appointments during the pandemic. The decreases in monthly appointments ranged from 437,898 in April 2020 to 129,114 last August, the most recent numbers available.

Flores also urged support for two California Assembly bills under consideration. AB526 would allow dentists to vaccinate for Covid and flu, potentially increasing healthcare equity.  AB733 would help expand access to oral healthcare for children and those pregnant enrolled in Medi-Cal by allowing registered dental hygienists to partner with medical professionals to provide fluoride treatments and oral health education and coordinate dental care. It is similar to a bill signed last year (AB890) that allowed physician assistants to perform more oral healthcare.

Gloria Velasquez, organization facilitator for L.A. Unified’s Student Health and Human Services, gave a briefing on school re-openings, including health and testing protocols and the hybrid teaching model.

Maryjane Puffer, executive director of The L.A. Trust, sounded an optimistic note at the close of the meeting. “The important thing is that nobody stopped working.” She pointed to expanded outreach on social media, TV and video, and events like The L.A. Trust’s ongoing Operation Tooth Fairy, which has distributed more than 58,000 toothbrushes to date. The next meeting of The L.A. Trust’s Oral Health Advisory Board will be held in person or online June 15 in accordance with health directives.

Scroll to Top