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A Vision of Children's Dental Care

A Vision of Children's Dental Care

Access to dental care has been an issue since thedays of FDR's New Deal--even in orthodontics, whichhas generally been regarded as elective treatment. Today,dentists are making access to care a reality for children inSouthern California.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Children'sDental Center in Inglewood. Dr. Cherilyn Sheets foundedthis center as a memorial tribute to her late father, whoused the site as a general dental office for more than halfa century. The younger Dr. Sheets--herself a world-renownedesthetic and restorative general dentist--remodeled,reshaped, and rebuilt this unpretentious dentaloffice into a modern cathedral of children's dentistry. Itsvolunteer staff consists of general dentists, orthodontists,oral surgeons, and endodontists as well as pediatric specialists.Residents and graduate students of each of thesedisciplines, along with dental students, make up the restof the providers. The chairside staff epitomizes dentalprofessionalism as well.

The center is outfitted with remarkably up-to-dateequipment. Several of the many individual operatorieshave surgical microscopes for endodontics and advancedrestorative dentistry. The orthodontic equipment includesan essentially new cephalometer and panorex, a brand-newwelder, a full assortment of pliers, and every conceivablewire, band, bracket, and auxiliary. The sterilizationroom is also state-of-the-art, with new ultrasoniccleaners, antioxidant baths, and autoclaves that wouldmake a small hospital's infection-control staff turn greenwith envy. At present, there are about 200 comprehensiveorthodontic cases in progress. Most of them would beconsidered ABO quality.

In fact, for being located in what is considered oneof Los Angeles's roughest inner-city areas, the quality ofpeople, facility, and, most important, care is absolutelyoutstanding. If you were to somehow be teleported intothe clinic without driving through the surrounding neighborhoodsto get there, you would guess that you were inone of the highest-class neighborhoods in Southern California. I would gladly take my own childrenthere with confidence that they were receivingthe best treatment possible.

The children who come to this clinicreceive no government money whatsoever insupport of their treatment--no DentiCal, no CCS. They are the kids who have fallen throughthe social safety net. Mom and Dad (and bothusually come to the appointments) are generallyworking several underpaid jobs between them tomake ends meet. Cherilyn established this clinicspecifically to provide the same level of care tothese children of the working poor as is providedas a matter of course to the children of the rich.In so doing, the center elevates the kids' ownself-esteem and expectations of themselves. It'simportant to note that none of the care is providedfor free. The fee is determined based on thefamily's ability to pay. Some, very few, get thecare and then skip out on the payment. But forthe most part, these people that the rest of uswould consider "poor" are proud and promptabout keeping their accounts current.

Private individuals, foundations, and majordental manufacturers have donated most of theequipment and supplies. Dr. Sheets has purchasedquite a bit of it out of her own pocket.Most of the doctors who work there do so on avolunteer basis. Before I left, I had a wonderfulchat with one of the volunteer orthodontists whoprovides comprehensive care at the facility twodays a month. When I asked why the center doesnot accept government funds to support patienttreatment, he replied that the intense levels ofbureaucratic red tape and paperwork involvedmade it not worth the trouble. "It just feels bad,"he said. When I asked why he provides care atthe center without compensation, he replied, "Itjust feels so good." Therein lies the answer to theaccess-to-care dilemma.

With her remarkable tribute to her father,Dr. Cherilyn Sheets has made a loud and clearstatement: that access to care, in the final analysis,lies in the hands of gifted and generous volunteers.They are doctors, like ourselves, whochoose to treat certain patients for free orreduced fees. They are corporate or individualsponsors who supply places like the Children'sDental Center. They are always much more compassionate--and much more efficient--than anygovernment bureaucracy. The smiles that comeout of the Children's Dental Center bear strongwitness to that.


Editor, JCO

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