During the first months of the pandemic, Dientes Community Dental Care was forced to close clinics throughout Santa Cruz County. The nonprofit, which aims to give people access to high-quality, affordable oral health care, was initially not seen as essential.
For more than two months, they had to work with a small team, and only for emergency care. They lost income and were forced to lay off and put employees on leave.
Fortunately, Dientes was finally cleared to reopen in the summer of 2020. They were approved for the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program, and are now back to about 90% of the services they had before Covid.
“We have seen an incredible wave of support from our community,” said Sheree Storm, Director of Development at Dientes. “It has been a difficult year for everyone. But we’re very happy to be back, serving patients across the county. “
Dientes was also able to restart its awareness days, which would normally be held at more than 30 sites across the county, including schools, a juvenile ward and homeless shelters. Pop-up clinics are set up at the various sites, offering dental examinations, x-rays, fluoride varnishes, cleanings and sealants.
In addition, staff refer patients to one of the main clinics if they need additional treatment, such as cavities.
Dientes worked closely with the county education office to host two awareness days at Sequoia High School in Watsonville earlier this month, serving low-income K-5 students. via pre-programmed appointments.
“Going to school is so important because kids, for so many reasons, don’t make it to the dentist,” Storm said. “Usually it is transportation. Parents just can’t get them there, or they work or live far away without a car. “
Another reason is the cost. Dental care is expensive and often not covered by health insurance. For example, elderly people on Medicare do not have dental coverage and are often overwhelmed by expensive procedures. It could be avoided, Storm said, if only they had a good foundation in oral health to begin with.
“Prevention is not just about treatment,” she said. “You have to educate children early, teach them better oral health habits… so that they don’t look back and have the same issues that older people are currently facing. “
The next awareness day is scheduled for May 8 in Santa Cruz, at the Branciforte Small Schools Campus, 840 North Branciforte Ave. To make an appointment, call 831-716-5926.
Dientes continues to work with dentists, educational institutions, and various organizations and agencies across the county and state, including Cabrillo College, First 5 Santa Cruz County, Salud Para La Gente, and the Central California Alliance For Health. Together, they focus on campaigns to educate parents about the importance of oral health for their children and to help families better access quality services.
And soon, Dientes will be able to further expand its own services. A new health and housing campus at 1500 Capitola Road will include a clinic for Dientes, a community health facility in Santa Cruz, as well as 57 affordable housing units developed by MidPen Housing. The six-building complex is built by Bogard Construction and designed by Wald, Ruhnke & Dost Architects.
Healthcare facilities are expected to be completed by 2022 and housing by 2023. Storm said they hope to innovate very soon.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “We expected it to start a year ago, but we had to take a hiatus because of Covid. Now we are really ready.
Dental care, Storm said, is a vital part of health care that should be available to everyone.
“Your mouth is an internal part of your body,” she said. “There is a direct relationship between oral health and heart health. Oral health is linked to better pregnancy outcomes, the ability to speak clearly. And it’s so much a matter of trust, of relationships with others… Everyone deserves to have a healthy smile.
For more information on Dientes Community Dental Care and to donate to the organization, visit dientes.org.