Monday, February 18, 2008

Dentists donate preventative dental care for foster children

Dentists asked to fill gaps in foster kids' care
Pasadena Star, Feb. 14, 2008.

ARCADIA - Facing $30 million in cutbacks this year, the county's foster care system has asked local dentists and private health agencies to step up to provide supplemental services for the 36,346 children now in care.

At a "Child Welfare Dental Summit" held Thursday at the Arboretum of Los Angeles County, dental and medical professionals and county officials came together to brainstorm on how to bridge the funding gap.

"We're trying to engage the community and individual dentists," said Patricia S. Ploehn, director of the county's Department of Children and Family Services.

"Children in care are our responsibility, and there are limited funds from Medical." she said. "There is nothing for orthodontics or cosmetic dentistry that's so important to a child's self-image ... and we're asking professionals to come to the table to say they will partner with us and provide low- or no-cost services."

Ploehn, a keynote speaker at the event, said several dentists from the 100-plus audience had already volunteered their services.

Levels of dental care required for children in the system, ranging from birth to 18, "run the whole gamut," Ploehn said and a trust fund, made up of donations, that underwrites some dental care is "not enough to meet the needs,"

After presentations by speakers - including Dr. Harold Slavkin, dean of USC school of Dentistry, and Michael Nash, presiding judge of the Los Angeles County Children's Court - the participants broke into working groups to define and tackle the top areas of concern.

Dr. Lynnette Jackson of Arcadia, a pediatric dentist who now works with Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and MLK Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center (formerly King-Drew Medical Center) said the need is enormous.

Dental health, she said, "is a very vital part of anything" and poor teeth can affect speech, cause other illnesses and infections, and take children out of school.

"It costs a lot more money to do restorative work than to do prevention ahead of time," said Jackson, a former board member of Pasadena-based Young & Healthy, a non-profit agency.

"It's very sad to see children in pain or having to be placed in hospital over something preventable," she said, adding that she and her staff have seen some shocking results of lack of basic care or treatment.

The County Board of Supervisors has allotted $5 million for a "prevention initiative" to let the department canvass agencies on their needs and work on strategies to fill the gaps in medical and dental care for foster children, Ploehn said.

"From what I have seen today, there's a desire by professionals to fill those gaps," she said. "Now we want to start matching people up."

Anyone interested in providing dental services is asked to call (213) 351-5600.

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