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San Fernando Valley Dental Society, LAPD team up to provide oral care to 'at-risk' youths

September 06, 2018

By Kimber Solana

Photo of Dr. Irani screening a patient
Screen: Dr. Karin Irani, left, conducts an oral screening on a junior cadet at the Los Angeles Police Department's Mission division in Mission Hills, Calif. The San Fernando Valley Dental Society and its foundation are collaborating with the LAPD in providing oral screenings to participants of the LAPD's Police Activities League and LAPD Cadet programs.
Chatsworth, Calif. — In an effort to help underserved children receive basic oral health care in their community, the San Fernando Valley Dental Society and its foundation found an unlikely partner — the Los Angeles Police Department.
    
"With their help, we're screening and seeing kids who are homeless and undocumented and many at-risk youths," said T. Andris Ozols, San Fernando Valley Dental Society executive director.
    
Mr. Ozols is referring to participants of the LAPD's Police Activities League and the LAPD Cadet program. Both are youth crime prevention programs that help form a bond between police officers and the youth in their community through education, athletic and recreational activities, including preparatory activities for those who aspire to become police officers.
    
Since June, member dentists have visited three of the 17 LAPD divisions in the San Fernando Valley Dental Society jurisdiction, providing oral screening and dental education to program participants.
    
The plan is to visit all seven divisions.

Many of the children, ages 8-21, fall through the cracks and are not eligibile for Denti-Cal, the dental program within the state's Medicaid (Medi-Cal) program, said Mr. Ozols. Others have difficulty receiving dental care due to affordability, accessibility, and cultural and language barriers.
    
"There are pockets in the valley that are considered 'dental deserts,'" Mr. Ozols said.
    
The collaboration with the LAPD began Mr. Ozols was introduced to a LAPD Cmdr. Jorge Rodriguez at a separate nonprofit event. When Mr. Ozols had suggested a collaboration where volunteer dentists screen and provide dental education to PAL and LAPD Cadet participants, the commander agreed.
    
The dental society provides the volunteers, the San Fernando Dental Society Foundation provides the funding and the LAPD provides the locations because they have access to community centers and available rooms in various city hall branches.
    
The first event was held in the Pacoima division where about 36 children were screened. One of the children, Mr. Ozols said, brought his grandmother who had a 30-year-old denture. It had broken about 20 years ago. A member dentist volunteer asked the grandmother to come in to her office to take care of the issue.

Mr. Ozols said the dentists are screening the children and then make recommendations to their parents. These recommendations include getting X-rays, cleanings, caries restorations, extractions if needed and orthodontic evaluations. Mr. Ozols said the volunteers emphasize the need to establish a dental home to ensure continuous oral care.

In addition, the program involves an education component, which includes teaching proper brushing and flossing techniques and providing information on the impact of sugary drinks and diet on teeth.

"Our members are very keen to giving back to the community," Mr. Ozols said. "They've been successful and lead a good life but they see a lot of folks who can't afford dental care. They want to give back. As a local dental society, we believe in making sure this community has access to dental care."