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UCLA School of Dentistry gets $9 million from First 5 LA to Increase Dental Care Access for Infants, Young Children

Posted on July 19, 2012

The UCLA School of Dentistry has received major new funding to help improve the oral health of children in underserved populations. First 5 LA, the child advocacy and grant-making organization, awarded the UCLA School of Dentistry and its partners $9 million to increase access to dental care for Los Angeles children from birth to age 5.

This funding is in response to an urgent need for improved oral health care for children living in areas with large population groups such as Latinos and African Americans who are at high-risk for early dental disease. Despite improvements in oral health care, millions of children continue to experience tooth decay and its consequences, including pain, infection, and loss of teeth, which can result in problems with eating, sleeping, and learning.

UCLA has engaged several key partners to collaborate in this initiative—the Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles, the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County, Safety Net Solutions, and the Sesame Workshop. This group of organizations will work with 10 to 12 community clinics in the Greater Los Angeles area to establish a "dental home" model of care for young children. The services provided will be delivered in a continuously accessible and family-centered way by licensed dentists and other healthcare providers.

Called the First 5 LA 21st Century Community Dental Homes Project, its major objectives will be to not only deliver quality dental care to young children but also  to increase parents' and child-care providers' awareness of the importance of oral healthcare for preschool children and develop a sustainable community "dental home" model of care for these children.

Healthcare disciplines including dentistry, public health, and pediatric and family medicine have all recognized that providing ongoing oral healthcare to children, beginning in the first year of life, leads to overall improved health and lower dental-related healthcare costs throughout childhood and adolescence. However, only a small fraction of infants and preschool children in the U.S. receives the recommended dental services needed to lead a healthy life.

"Because the need for ongoing oral healthcare for young children is so critical in L.A. County, First 5 LA is pleased to invest in UCLA's collaborated efforts to reach those most in need of this program," says Craig A. Steele, interim chief executive officer of First 5 LA. "This funding supports our mission to increase the number of young children who are physically and emotionally healthy, safe, and ready to learn."

Dr. James J. Crall, professor and chair of the division of public health and community dentistry at the UCLA School of Dentistry and a member of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities, will serve as project director of the oral healthcare initiative.

"Improving oral health care for young children requires innovative collaborative approaches that address challenges to delivering accessible, quality care in diverse communities," Crall said.

No-Hee Park, dean of the UCLA School of Dentistry, said: "As a prototype for community-based systems of oral health care, this project promises to bring about preventative and lasting improvements in oral health, not only in the Los Angeles community but eventually at national and global scales as well."