Free Fresno County youth dental care program could end, providers worried

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For years, a dental program has been providing care for free in Fresno County for kids and young adults. Free Denti-Cal Youth Services — a program offering services to Medi-Cal beneficiaries — has filled a gap in preventive care. However, due to uncertainty of funding, the program could end next year.

Right now, Free Denti-Cal Youth Services is funded until Dec. 2020. Since its creation in Aug. 2017, more than 160 dentists have enrolled to provide services to youth up to 20-years-old. 12,000 youth have enrolled to receive care, according to the Fresno County Department of Public Health.

One of the providers, Dr. Paul Hsiao, said he likes the program because it teaches preventive dental care.

“If we can start early on and develop some of these brushing habits and flossing habits, it becomes second nature,” Hsiao said.

The program connects families with providers based on needs then, after an initial appointment, will get checked up on by outreach staff. This is to ensure patients will continue to get care.

Given how helpful the program sounds, it would seem many families who qualify would sign up. However, Daniela Aghadjanian, the division manager for Children’s Medical Services in the county, said many families still don’t know about it.

The big obstacle: it’s hard to pin them down.

“A lot of them are transient. So, we’re trying to catch them wherever they are. Some of them we’re catching them at the farmer’s market on Tuesday, or we’re catching them at schools,” Aghadjanian said.

Part of the preventive dental care awareness the program provides is teaching how oral health problems can cause other issues.

“They’ve even linked the bacteria in our mouth to the bacteria in our arteries,” said Rhoda Gonzales, Registered Dental Hygienist in Alternative Practice. “That same that causes the periodontal disease causes heart disease.”

When it spreads, it can trickle to other parts of our lives.

“That means more emergency room visits, more absences at school, more absences at work,” Hsiao said.

 Denti-Cal is available for anyone using Medi-Cal. It’s just in Fresno County, Free Denti-Cal Youth Services is free for youth up to 20-years-old.

For more information on the program, you can click here.

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