How United Way of Ventura County Fosters Healthy Smiles

Apr 17, 2024

Global Volunteer Month is a time to recognize the power of individuals working together to make a positive difference in their communities. This month, Points of Light is highlighting United Way of Ventura County, a Points of Light Global Network Affiliate dedicated to improving lives by focusing on education, financial stability and health.

Tooth decay, despite being largely preventable, remains the most common chronic childhood disease. United Way of Ventura County understands its detrimental impact on nutrition, development and school attendance. That’s why they’ve launched the Building Healthy Smiles program. We spoke with Aissa Fernandez, manager of Community Impact Programs at United Way of Ventura County, to find out more about the program and its impact.

Tell us about a project or initiative you’re working on that’s making a big impact on your community.

United Way of Ventura County’s Building Healthy Smiles program seeks to tackle the issue of tooth decay by focusing on education and prevention. Despite being preventable, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease affecting children. It can contribute to a wide range of problems including poor nutrition, sub-normal growth and unnecessary pain. Dental pain because of tooth decay can also impact school absenteeism and lead to a significant loss in attendance-based school funding.

Our strategy is a school-liked prevention approach where we, in collaboration with our oral health care partners who volunteer their time, conduct on-site oral health education, screening and fluoride varnish application events. We specifically target schools where 50% or more of the student population is eligible for the Free or Reduced-Price Meal program. For children who we identify with dental decay during the screening process, we work with our dental partners, the school nurse and the child’s family to connect the child to dental care and treatment.

Establishing a dental home for students without one remains our top priority. The assessment events we provide focus on kindergarten and 3rd grade students. Kindergarteners who have not completed the state mandated oral health assessment are a part of our target population. We also screen 3rd grade students to follow California’s Oral Health Plan which sets targets for tooth decay, untreated decay and sealant prevalence in 3rd grade children. In fiscal year 2022-2023, Building Healthy Smiles screened over 1,000 students and provided over 600 students with an application of fluoride varnish.

“In Ventura County, we have over 100,000 children who do not have access to a dental home. We’ve partnered strategically with Clinicas and others to provide school-based programs that provide children with an education component of proper dental hygiene and preventative treatment, with the ultimate goal of providing a dental home for those 100,000 children.” — Mitchel Sloan, president & CEO, United Way of Ventura County

Do you have an upcoming special event or milestone that your organization is celebrating? Tell us about it!

In honor of National Children’s Dental Health Month, throughout the month of February, Building Healthy Smiles conducted school screenings at local elementary schools.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone who’s looking to get more involved in their community through civic engagement?

Any act of service, no matter how small, can make a difference. Do what you can, with what you’ve got, wherever you are.

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