One of three children in Orange County has untreated tooth decay—a fact Ria Berger knows all too well. As the CEO of Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County, she has heard the heart-rending stories of families who can’t afford to miss work to take their child to the dentist, or lack transportation or insurance, or don’t own a toothbrush because they weren’t taught the importance of oral health.
To eliminate those barriers to dental care, the Santa Ana-based nonprofit provides education and services through its Garden Grove clinic, Children’s Hospital Orange County, and, crucially, through its innovative teledentistry outreach program, Smiles X-Press, at local schools. A dental hygienist and dental assistant take safe X-rays and photos of students’ mouths, clean teeth, and even add sealants or temporary fillings. Each child’s records are then reviewed by a dentist off-site, who can recommend a treatment plan at a nearby clinic. Since its inception in 2016, Smiles X-Press has made more than 11,500 teledentistry visits, and services are free for families on Denti-Cal, Medi-Cal’s dental program.
“We focus on what it takes to help each child smile from within—that means they can sleep well at night, they can chew and swallow, and they can focus in class because they aren’t in pain,” Berger says. “It means when they grow up, they stand a strong chance to go to college and job interviews and not have the insecurities of being from an underserved community because they have good oral health.”