A brighter smile for Tahoe children in need
Some of Tahoe’s kids have a reason to smile when they schedule their next dental appointment with High Sierra Dental Care.
Young Tahoe Smiles, an in-house dental program that benefits children between the ages of 6 and 16, was established by Dr. Mireya Ortega to provide basic dental care to help children from financially challenged or underserved families get a healthy smile.
“Our goal is to get these children to a state where they are infection-free, pain-free, healthy and functional,” Ortega said.
Children who qualify get up to five dental visits at High Sierra Dental Care for a pre-determined fee of $5 or $10, depending on financial circumstances.
“We want to take care of children that don’t have anything. The program is for children; doesn’t matter if they are from Carson or South Lake, the services are available to any child that qualifies.” Ortega added.
To qualify, children must not have any dental insurance or be eligible for any other dental program.
They can expect to receive appointments in the morning, when dental cleaning, X-rays and all other diagnostic and preventive services are provided.
Ortega pointed out that a lot of families fall into the gray zone – where they make a little too much money for programs such as MediCare and Healthy Families, but don’t make enough be able to afford their own insurance – or they have multiple part-time jobs where their employers don’t offer dental benefits.
“These children have not seen a dentist in a long time,” Ortega said, “And I’m seeing pretty much seen what I have expected. A lot of decay, a lot of dental issues that certainly create problems in the future which makes them feel uncomfortable in school if they try to learn something.” Ortega explained.
An estimated half a million children miss school in California each year due to dental problems, according to the Sacramento District Dental Society.
The program officially started in December 2010 and became a reality because of donors Rob Rodriguez and Sue Boyer, who Ortega got introduced to at the UC Los Angeles School of Dentistry.
Telling them that, someday, she would like to retire and do dentistry as a hobby to take care of kids, they got together and decided to establish the “Young Tahoe Smiles” program based on her experiences at a satellite clinic for low-income families at UCLA.
Together with Rodriguez and Boyer, who donate to the program with funds, and collaborating with Tahoe Magic, a nonprofit organization at Lake Tahoe, Ortega donates alot of her own services to children in need.
“It really is a collaborative effort between the parents, the community individuals, groups like Tahoe Magic and myself,” she said.
Also, the local nonprofit organization Ordinary People Meeting Extraordinary Needs funded the program last year.
Last year, Ortega treated 26 children successfully during 122 visits with a total amount of services costing $58,707. About 58 percent were male patients and 42 percent were female patients between the ages 6 and 14.
As of this month, seven children are currently in the program.
The first step to get involved is to look up the Federal Poverty Guidelines and to see where potential participants fall based on their income.
Interested families can visit http://www.youngtahoesmiles.com for information in English and Spanish. All documents are available to download at the site, or patients can call the High Sierra Dental Care office at 530-541-7040.
High Sierra Dental Care is located at 1060 Ski Run Blvd. in South Lake Tahoe.