UCSB Student Health partnered with charity organization Direct Relief International this past Saturday to provide free dental care to 20 low-income, uninsured children in Isla Vista.
The charity provided teeth cleanings, sealants and curative dental treatment to Isla Vista and Goleta elementary school students as part of the third annual event. In addition, the children received free dental hygiene kits and educational materials.
Each year, Direct Relief International gives money to three clinics throughout the state in an effort to help children who are in dire need of dental treatment, but do not have the means to afford it. Dentists, dental hygienists and other volunteers also donate their time to the cause.
“This is what its all about,” local dentist Frank Hull said. “I seem to gravitate to causes like these, in which people need care like this because they have nothing.”
The children included in the program were selected based on poor dental health and lack of insurance. Last week, all 20 children received x-rays and teeth cleaning, and 16 came back on Saturday for extractions, sealants and other treatments.
They are also provided with educational materials on how to properly care for their teeth and kits that contain toothbrushes, floss and toothpaste.
“We also give the children toys so they can leave here happy after crying so much,” program officer Martha Angeles said.
Angeles, who has been in charge of finding dental offices to host the program since 1993, said Isla Vista is an ideal location.
“I’m so happy to have UCSB host our clinic,” she said. “It’s an important thing for Isla Vista children who have nothing and could potentially die from bacteria in their teeth.”
Angeles said the Direct Relief program helps prevent dental tragedies like a recent case in Maryland, where an uninsured 12-year-old boy died when bacteria from his teeth spread to his brain. A routine tooth extraction could have saved his life, she said.
“It is so rewarding to help these brave children receive the care they need,” fourth-year Student Health intern Jill Baucher said. “It is a great opportunity for me.”
The majority of the children treated over the weekend have, on average, seen a dentist only once in their life. Eliva Diaz, a seven-year-old who has been to the dentist twice, received four fillings and one sealant on the right side of her mouth on Saturday, Angeles said. She will also receive free follow-up work in a few weeks for the other side of her mouth.
By receiving dental care and education at a young age, Angeles said, the children learn oral hygiene habits that will last a lifetime.
“It is very rewarding when you meet children who have learned something because of this organization,” she said. “One boy told me that he was at his uncle’s office and was going to pick up a soda pop, but then remembered that he should take a water instead.”