(Perla Gonzalez, registered dental assistant, takes images of the teeth of Brittney Olvera, a fourth-grader at MacQuiddy Elementary School, during a visit by a team from Dientes Community Dental of Watsonville. Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)
WATSONVILLE — In the back half of the noisy lunchtime cafeteria at MacQuiddy Elementary School Tuesday, a group of young students lined up for a brief free dental examination.
A dentist and two assistants from Dientes Community Dental saw a total of 27 students throughout the day, providing exams, fluoride treatment and X-rays.
The school is one of 25 throughout Santa Cruz and Monterey counties that benefit from Dientes’ outreach program. The organization recently launched an additional three school-based clinics in South County.
While the impromptu lunchroom clinic may have seemed a bit out of place to the casual observer, bringing dentistry to low-income children and their families has been a core part of Dientes’ mission since its creation 26 years ago.
According to Dientes Development Associate Savanna Sandusky, 24 percent of pre-kindergarten children have untreated tooth decay, and more than 30 percent of Santa Cruz County children have never been to the dentist.
“The kids we’re seeing are from families who are not able to bring their kids to the dentist,” Sandusky said.
While many families cite income and lack of transportation as their barriers to dental care, some are unaware of the importance for their children, Sandusky said.
“A lot of people don’t understand that baby teeth do matter,” she said. “They do have an impact on adult teeth.”