Stephanie Peralta brings her four children to the UCSF School of Dentistry Clinic at Parnassus all the way from Livermore, California.
The family makes the 45-mile journey across the bridge to get free dental care provided by UCSF dental students and clinical faculty members. This year, the trek to San Francisco will take longer since the Bay Bridge will be closed until Tuesday morning for construction work.
“I constantly tell them their teeth are going to fall out if they don't brush their teeth,” she said. “It’s hard to get them to get in good habits of brushing their teeth and continue doing it every day.”
This Saturday, the UCSF School of Dentistry is hosting its annual "Give Kids A Smile" program from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., offering free dental care to kids ages 4-17 – the same age range as Peralta’s children.
“The older ones are definitely role models for my youngest daughter,” Peralta said. “So if my older ones are brushing their teeth, the little one will want to get in the bathroom and do it herself.”
The goal of the community outreach program is to not only to provide dental services, but also to educate children and their parents about proper brushing and flossing techniques.
“Some common misconceptions of dental health include that tooth decay is a natural part of getting older,” said Brent Lin, DMD, clinical professor at the UCSF School of Dentistry. “That’s not true. Tooth decay is not inevitable.”
Impact of Dental-Related Illnesses
Approximately 45 million people, or more than a quarter of all Americans, have no dental health care coverage. Dental decay is one of the most common chronic illnesses among children. Although most dental diseases are preventable, many children unnecessarily suffer from dental disease because of inadequate home care, and lack of access to dental services, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Good oral health starts when the patient is very young,” Lin said. “We suggest that expectant mothers get their teeth checked because their oral health could impact their child’s health while he or she is still in the womb.”
An estimated 51 million school hours per year are lost in the U.S. because of dental-related illness. Poor oral health has been related to decreased school performance, poor social relationships and less success later in life, according to the CDC.
“Children miss a lot of school because of toothache or dental appointments and they have a hard time focusing on their work because of discomfort from dental pain. It can greatly impact one's quality of life,” Lin said. “We take this opportunity to make the public aware of the importance of good oral health and how we can prevent teeth-related diseases.”
And this opportunity can make a world of a difference for many Bay Area families.
"Especially being a low income parent I think it’s important there are programs like this out there that can offer free services,” Peralta said. “We’re grateful to UCSF.”
Photos by Leland Kim