Alfredo Salazar, 9, hasn’t been brushing his teeth very well and needs to have a cavity filled as a result.
He’s got plenty of company in the Yakima Valley, dental experts say, where many children need regular dental care but don’t get it.
The Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic is trying to make a dent in the problem. Salazar, a fourth-grader at Valley View Elementary in Toppenish, was seen recently by a dentist on board the clinic’s Mobile Dental Unit.
According to Liberty Franklin, one of the dentists heading the unit, the dental health campaign is part of the clinic’s annual goal to serve children from families of limited resources who attend elementary schools in the Valley.
“This program is part of a routine visit that we do twice a year — one in the fall and the other during the spring, with the objective to serve 10,000 children in the area,” Franklin said.
Each child gets an oral exam, X-rays and, if needed, fillings.
Franklin said every child is offered dental service “whether they have medical insurance or not.”
Mayra Cisneros, a dental assistant with the mobile unit, said that there’s a big need to improve dental care in children living in agricultural areas of the state.
“We’ve seen that children in this part of the Valley need to improve their dental care. Many children need cleanings, treatments and even extractions,” Cisneros said, adding that part of her job is to explain to parents the importance of dental care.
Cisneros said that “a lot of parents are unaware of the dental service options for their children even if they don’t have dental insurance. We are here to make those options known to them.”
Through the mobile unit’s school visits, students learn dental hygiene, correct brushing technique and how to floss.
“We have dental records from these children from the time they were in preschool and we can see the improvement in their dental care. It makes us feel good about the job we are doing,” Cisneros said.
Alfredo, the young patient, said that while going to the dentist isn’t at the top of his list, “Now I know that I need to brush my teeth in a circular manner, at least twice a day.”
• Normand Garcia is the editor of El Sol de Yakima, the Herald-Republic’s weekly Spanish-language newspaper.