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Bringing dental care to preschool: Virtual Dentist Home program helps provide remote access
April 15, 2013, 05:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff

Heather Murtagh/Daily Journal Four-year-old Janelle Jimenez takes part in a virtual dentist demonstration with the help of Ushma Patel, left, and Leslie Estrada at the Magnolia Head Start Preschool in East Palo Alto Friday morning.

Four-year-old Janelle Jimenez maneuvered through a crowd of professionals, elected officials and press Friday morning to sit on a foldable red chair set up at the Magnolia Head Start Preschool in East Palo Alto.

Dental hygienist Ushma Patel helped Jimenez put on a small napkin-like bib around the preschooler’s neck. Nearby, Leslie Estrada prepared the computer. Within minutes, the women were taking pictures of the little girl’s teeth. Photos were uploaded into a computer, which could be remotely accessed by a dentist in real time or later that day. The demonstration held Friday morning showcased the new Virtual Dentist Home program being piloted locally through funding from First 5 San Mateo County. Using current technology, health care professionals can set up temporary shop at schools, residential communities or wherever they can get wireless.

“This new delivery model provides a much-needed community-based virtual dental home for our state’s most vulnerable people, who will access dental services in their own communities as well as remove some of the barriers to receiving care in a traditional dental office,” said Dr. Paul Glassman, project director and professor of dental practice at the University of the Pacific’s Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry.

More than 50 percent of children entering kindergarten have experienced tooth decay and about 25 percent on Medi-Cal get preventative dental care, said Dr. Yogita Thakur, dental director of Ravenswood Family Health Clinic in East Palo Alto. The program’s been offered at eight sites since September resulting in 180 children served. Almost two-thirds of those treated didn’t need a referral for more service, she said. Of those who did need to be referred for additional help, they were able to work with Estrada who supported them throughout the process. Services will be expanded to 12 sites this year.

Since starting the program, Thakur has noticed children are more comfortable coming to get further help. Also, problems can often be addressed faster and in the same day, she said.

San Mateo County is one of 10 counties in California taking part in the program. Locally, it’s offered to children in the Head Start program through a partnership between First 5 San Mateo County, The Institute for Human and Social Development, Ravenswood Family Health Center and Pacific Center for Special Care.

East Palo Alto Mayor Ruben Abrica said by offering health services and providing preschool for all local children, the city will be able to create a strong foundation for its youth.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said the program expands health care opportunities to vulnerable communities, explores the latest in technology and leverages public/private partnerships.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105

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