Spreading the importance of oral health

The Samuel Dixon Family Health Center tables at the Farmers Market to provide dental resources and information to the community. Courtesy

Across the Santa Clarita Valley and beyond, organizations are working to educate residents on the importance of oral health.

Often overlooked, oral health is an extremely important area of health that has not always been emphasized, yet often affects the rest of the body, according to Elizabeth Brummel, a registered dental hygienist.

Approximately 59% of Los Angeles County residents saw a dentist in 2015, according to most recent data gathered by the L.A. County Department of Public Health, meaning more than 3 million people did not. 

Your mouth’s link to the rest of your body

Dental hygiene is important for everyone, regardless of age, and is even linked to a number of other health conditions, including some chronic diseases.

Vazgen Tervardanyan, a registered dental hygienist in alternative practice at the Samuel Dixon Family Health Center, described the mouth as a mirror to your overall health, noting that chronic disease and oral health go hand in hand, with poor dental hygiene linked to cardiovascular problems, cancer and diabetes, among others.

Diabetes, for example, is a systemic disease that affects gum health and overall dental health, requiring patients to get more frequent cleanings, Tervardanyan said.

Brummel and Tervardanyan agreed that they can often tell the status of a person’s diabetes just by looking at their mouth.

Working toward oral health for all

The Sam Dixon center was established more than 40 years ago to provide medical care to underserved communities, but over time, the center identified other needs and expanded its services to include dental care as well, according to CEO Philip Solomon.

Many of the center’s patients are living near the poverty line, where resources are extremely limited, if not nonexistent, Solomon said.

Six years ago, a federal grant allowed the center to bring in a registered dental hygienist and two dental assistants, who are able to do regular cleanings and diagnostic X-rays for patients, while also providing additional funds to contract with dentists, reducing the cost of any further dental work that’s required sometimes to zero.

It’s resources like Sam Dixon that Public Health’s Oral Health Collaborative Consortium, or OHCC, partners with in their community outreach efforts, according to Brummel, who is a community liaison with the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Dentistry, which is part of the OHCC and contracted by Public Health’s Oral Health program.

The OHCC is working to address the local community’s oral health needs by providing educational resources as they work to prevent oral diseases, Brummel added.

These organizations are working together to educate L.A. County residents on the importance of oral health so they can have a good quality of life and not worry about their teeth, Brummel said. They emphasize proper nutrition and how that impacts their overall health and well-being, Tervardanyan added.

Moreover, the OHCC works to enhance oral health access within L.A. County communities, sharing resources with residents and helping them to understand their available benefits.

Elizabeth Brummel, community liaison with Oral Health Collaborative Consortium, tables with the Samuel Dixon Family Health Center and Healing California’s mobile dental truck at an event to provide free dental services to those in need. Courtesy

‘Love Your Baby’s Teeth’

Among those resources is Public Health’s Love Your Baby’s Teeth campaign, which is focused on oral health education for children and their parents, providing healthy tips for families from pregnancy to young adulthood. 

Children’s oral health is a high priority for Public Health, as almost half of L.A. County’s children experience decay by the time they enter kindergarten, and 81% of underserved children in L.A. need dental care, according to results from the 2020 Smile Survey

From 12 months to 3 years, children should visit the dentist every six months, as even baby teeth are important to their health and development, such as their ability to chew or speak.

The campaign works to educate parents on how to be role models, brushing and flossing together with their kids to ensure oral health is part of their routine.

For more information on oral health resources, visit smilecalifornia.org, or for more information on the Love Your Baby’s Teeth campaign, visit choosehealthla.com/teeth.

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