Thirty-seven children in Santa Barbara County received dental care free-of-charge on Saturday as part of the Healthy Smiles program, coordinated by Direct Relief in collaboration with other local organizations. The clinic is held annually during February, National Children’s Dental Health Month.
Hosted at the office of Dr. Samuel Burg in Santa Maria, California, the goal of Healthy Smiles is to screen, identify, treat, and educate children in need to ensure that their current dental problems do not develop into more complex health conditions.
However, many families cannot afford the cost of dental care, leaving their children without regular cleanings and check-ups. Below are stories of three families who wanted to share their thanks for services received from volunteer dentists and hygienists at this year’s dental clinic:
Naya & Nina:
Sisters Naya, 12, and Nina, 9, arrived in California less than two years ago when their family sought refuge from the escalating conflict in Syria. Their parents said that without the clinic, their girls would not be able to receive dental care as insurance issues for refugees can make it difficult to access regular dental visits.
Juan Carlos, 13, came to the dental clinic for the second year. His mother, Imelda, told Direct Relief that because their family cannot afford dental insurance, the clinics are the only way they can get dental care for their two sons, Juan Carlos and Stephen. She said they were very happy to learn Juan Carlos was accepted after being on the waiting list for some time. Juan Carlos’ father has molar pain and said he is grateful his children can access these services to prevent them from the same suffering.
Jose Alberto, 11, said this was his second-ever visit to the dentist. Jose Alberto had three permanent rotten molars in need of emergency attention and will be receiving follow up care to prevent further damage. He arrived in the U.S. five months ago from Honduras, accompanied by his mother, Mirean. She was thrilled her son was accepted into the program as she lost her job due to injury several months ago and cannot afford insurance. Mirean said the two came to the country to flee violence at home and are working to create a better life in California.
Beyond the One-Day Clinic
In addition to medical treatment, families receive bilingual oral health education when they arrive at the clinic, providing them the information they need to ensure proper care at home.
Each family also takes home a dental hygiene kit containing toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss, which were donated by many health care manufacturers to Direct Relief and packed by local volunteers.