Success for Every Child: Improving Oral Health

When a pregnant woman has a dental disease, her baby is also at an increased risk of developing a dental infection. Research has shown that without proper oral health practices and good nutrition, dental decay can begin soon after babies get their first teeth. Pain from dental disease impacts nutritional intake and tooth loss, damaged teeth, and other dental issues erode self-esteem and confidence, leading to diminished success in school. 

Identified issues facing San Mateo County include:
• Inadequate number of dentists providing care to meet demand, particularly for Medi-Cal/Denti-Cal eligible populations.
• Current reimbursement rates are insufficient and exacerbate gap in services.
• Appointment wait time can be months at community clinics.
• Parents of children served by First 5 San Mateo County-funded programs, particularly non-English speaking families, have reported difficulties accessing dental care.

Our Impact

Across the country, agencies at the county, state and federal levels are recognizing the need for additional resources to assure access to dental care, improve oral health, and integrate with overall health efforts. First 5 San Mateo County has funded a dedicated Oral Health Initiative since 2012, and has been purposefully investing in the development of county-wide solutions using both capacity-building and collective impact strategies.

Most recently, First 5 San Mateo County contributed funding toward the creation of an Oral Health Strategic Plan for the county. First 5 San Mateo County commissioners, staff and grantees have furthered the investment by leading the efforts of the San Mateo County Oral Health Coalition as convenors and champions. The coalition, which includes more than 30 organizations and individuals from the oral health, medical, philanthropic, and other fields, has accomplished:
• Launch of the strategic planning process December 2015 at a planning retreat attended by more than 60 cross-sector stakeholders.
• Environmental scan of the current data and resources on oral health in San Mateo County.
• Final Oral Health Strategic Plan, released in October 2016. First 5 San Mateo County’s commitment to the implementation of the Oral Health Strategic Plan includes funding support for two new county staff positions: an Oral Health Strategic Plan Director and a Dental ProgramSpecialist. These key staff positions will oversee the implementation of the Strategic Plan, including initiating the ongoing convening of local oral health stakeholders, whose support and direction will continue to be integral to the
Plan’s success.

In parallel with the systems-level work being done through the Oral Health Coalition, First 5 San Mateo County continues to fund for its signature Oral Health investment, the Virtual Dental Home Program, led by Ravenswood Family Health Center. This innovative dental model focuses on prevention through parent education, bringing preventive services to the community and providing children with a dental home. The “virtual dental home” uses  a collapsible dental chair, laptop computer, digital camera on the end of a dental probe and a handheld X-ray machine that “extends the opportunity to offer dental diagnostic and preventive services in the comfort of their familiar and non-threatening pre-school environment and introduces the child and the family to preventive dental services and education at a very young age,” says Dr. Yogita Thakur, Dental Director at Ravenswood Family Health Center.

• More than 1,125 children in San Mateo County have been served by the Virtual  Dental Home since First 5 San Mateo County began the funding model in 2012.
• The Virtual Dental Home is on target to serve 600 children ages 1 through 5 this year in San Mateo County with First 5 funding, including an expanded focus on children with special needs.

Kitty Lopez has served as the Executive Director of First 5 San Mateo County since 2012, focusing on policy, advocacy and communications development. Additionally, she is the Chair of First 5 Association of California. Kitty previously served as the Executive Director of Samaritan House, one of the leading safety-net nonprofit agencies serving low-income families and individuals in San Mateo County with food, shelter, clothing, health care, counseling, education classes, and holiday assistance from 2002 to 2012.

Kitty taught kindergarten, second grade, and high school in the Bay Area and in Santa Barbara, and was a consultant in schools with children who have autism and special needs. Additionally, Kitty worked in a residential substance abuse treatment center in San Francisco and psychiatric hospital in San Diego.

She attended University of California Santa Barbara earning a California Teaching Credential and B.A in Psychology. Kitty is active in her community serving on several community boards including HEART (Housing Endowment and Regional Trust of San Mateo County), STEP (Success Through Education Program), and Past President and Current Member of the San Mateo Rotary Club.