Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine will receive $8.4 million from First 5 LA to provide dental care to uninsured and underserved children.

The First 5 LA Commission approved the initial 19-month contract for $3.1 million with WesternU, part of a five-year, $38 million project in cooperation with UCLA and USC. The total awarded to WesternU through the full five-year implementation of the program is anticipated to be $8.4 million.

The program will emphasize getting children into the oral health care delivery system, or dental homes, by age 1, said Timothy Martinez, DMD, College of Dental Medicine Associate Dean for Community Partnerships and Access to Care.

College of Dental Medicine faculty and students will assess patients and provide dental care and preventative and educational services. The College will work with the San Gabriel Valley Foundation for Dental Health, WesternU’s Patient Care Center, and the Center for Oral Health, which is now housed on WesternU’s Pomona campus. It also plans to work collaboratively to establish four school-based dental oral health centers.

“We want to track the patients, make sure they’re getting into dental care, make sure their treatment plans are being completed, and make sure they’re put on preventative maintenance,” Martinez said. “That’s how you take care of a population and keep them healthy.”

WesternU is working with school districts that have high Medicaid enrollment, and one goal is to create sustainability.

“We’re trying to integrate oral health services with established school-based health centers, and we’re going to develop processes to help support those programs,” Martinez said. “The goal is to demonstrate how dentists can be successful providing services at these schools. We also have interprofessional training, teaching nurse practitioners and physician assistants about anticipatory guidance, which is how to prevent caries (cavities), talking to mothers, and how to apply fluoride varnish.”

This program will introduce College of Dental Medicine students to caring for very young patients early in their education, which does not typically happen in dental schools, said College of Dental Medicine Dean Steven W. Friedrichsen, DDS.

“While providing essential dental services, the project will also help prepare the next generation of dentists to understand the importance of a dental home, a first dental visit by their first birthday, and early intervention and treatment for these children,” he said.

First 5 LA is a unique child-advocacy organization created by California voters to invest tobacco tax revenues in programs aimed at improving the lives of children in Los Angeles County, from prenatal through age 5.

Since 1998, the program has allocated more than $1.5 billion toward grants, programs and operations that improve the well-being of young children and families in Los Angeles County, according to First 5 LA’s 2011-12 Annual Financial Report.

In all 50 states, children enrolled in Medicaid carry the most burden of oral disease. Specifically, 25 percent of low-income children account for 80 percent of dental disease. Children who live below the poverty level are twice as likely to have untreated decay, and only 38 percent of Medicaid-eligible children receive any dental services, according to a 2011 study, “New Directions for Medicaid and CHIP Dental Programs: Children and Adults Health Programs Group, Center for Medicaid, CHIP and Survey & Certification,” by V. Wachino.

The overall vision for the First 5 LA Oral Health and Nutrition Expansion and Enhancement Initiative (OHN) is for children of Los Angeles County to have good dental health. The goal of First 5 LA’s Children’s Dental Care Program (CDCP) is to provide preventative or treatment services to 95,000 children.

“It is important to acknowledge and thank the First 5 LA Commission for their outstanding efforts to support the pivotal role that oral health plays in the overall health of our children,” Friedrichsen said. “They’re helping to create an awareness of the need for good oral health as part of the normal wellness and development of a child.”