The costs of shelter, food and clothing can quickly suck up a budget, especially for economically-challenged families in Southern California where the cost of living is high.
Trips to the dentist for regular cleanings simply don’t make the cut – until a toothache hits, or a painful oral infection.
“Try to sit in a classroom and concentrate with a toothache, and it’s impossible,” says Dr. John Blake, executive director and dental director for the Children’s Dental Health Clinic (CDHC) in Long Beach. “By the time some of these kids reach us, we see chronic infection, abscesses and numerous cavities. It’s our job to get them back to a healthy place.”
The CDHC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, has been serving economically disadvantaged and special-needs children and young adults, ages 0-21, in the Greater Long Beach and South Bay areas since 1932.
On average, it treats more than 10,000 children and young adults a year through 33,000 visits. The main clinic is hospital-based on the campus of the Miller Children’s Hospital at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. The CDHC additionally has a school-based satellite clinic on Santa Catalina Island and a mobile dental clinic that travels throughout the community to offer preventive services, general treatment and oral health education.
Blake says 75 percent of the cases they handle are for general health cleanings and care, but 25 percent are much more complex, and these complex cases seem to be growing. “We are witnessing an overwhelming increase in the need for specialized services, and the list of children waiting for care continues to rise,” said Blake. “There are not enough providers to manage the complex patients – those who are wheelchair-bound, born with cleft palates, cerebral palsy and childhood cancers. Often times these kids need sedation, or to be cleared by a dental team to make sure they do not have infections in the mouth before surgeries and other medical treatments are performed.”
The CDHC then plays the critical role of safety-net resource and dental home for all-inclusive, multi-specialty dental services that can meet all of a child’s treatment needs “under one roof.”
As dental director, Blake has been with the CDHC team for more than 20 years. He started as a volunteer in high school, which inspired him to go to dental school. After college, he opened a private practice, but continued to give at least a day a week to the organization.
In 2003, he joined CDHC full-time and in 2005 he became executive director. Now, he generally spends two days a week doing direct patient care, with the majority of his time devoted to the more complex hospital cases. He is joined by 17 independent dentist contractors who work several days a week for the CDHC, and a total of 35 full-time staff members.
As the case load increases, Blake says the organization will continue to build and leverage partnerships with local health agencies, as well as dental schools in the area, like the University of Southern California, to ensure dentists are prepared to treat complex cases and serve the community.
“We’re close to capacity,” said Blake. “If we had the funding we could easily add three or four more providers, so we’re always working hard to access more grants, corporate giving and individual donations. The goal is really to serve as many kids as we can, giving them the smiles they deserve and a healthy future.”
To learn more about CDHC, visit www.cdhc.org or call 562-933-3141. The CDHC accepts Denti-Cal (Medi-Cal), My Health LA, as well as some PPO insurances. It also welcomes cash patients using a sliding-scale fee payment plan based on income.