Dental care called a health care crisis

  • Dr. Mark Hagele examines three-year-old Christopher Hernandez's teeth prior to his surgery, while his mother, Norma Tellez, looks on at the PDI Surgery Center, in Windsor, on Wednesday, June 15, 2011.

Even though she had 12 cavities, 3-year-old Vanessa Sepulveda never complained about pain.

But on Wednesday, lying in a state-of-the-art dental operating room at PDI Surgery Center in Windsor, general anesthesia was used to help her deal with filling and crowning her caries — the likely result of drinking juice since she was 7 months old.

"We used to put it in her baby bottle with water so it wouldn't be so sweet," said her father, Ignacio Sepulveda of St. Helena. "We now know that she should eat apples and other fruit, instead of drinking them," he said in Spanish.

Sepulveda is part of what local officials are calling a growing North Coast health care crisis that only now is being assessed in Sonoma County. According to a study by the Sonoma County Task Force on Oral Health, yet to be formally released to the public:

-- In 2010, there were only 15 dentists for 109,000 low-income residents in Sonoma County — a fraction of the pool available to those with private insurance.

-- In 2009, 52 percent of the county's third-graders had a history of tooth decay, exceeding the state average.

-- The county's impoverished third-graders are more than twice as likely to suffer from untreated tooth decay as children from more affluent families.

The report is expected to be reviewed by the county Board of Supervisors next month.

Located adjacent to the Windsor Golf Club on 19th Hole Drive, the non-profit surgery center is the last line of defense for thousands of low-income children in the North Coast who have little access to routine dental care.

Though many of them have public dental insurance, almost no private practice dentists in the area will accept their coverage. At the same time, state budget cuts to dental programs and a recession that has left many local residents without private dental insurance has "pushed Sonoma County's fragile oral health &‘system' to the breaking point," the report said.

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