Investing in our Children / Invirtiendo en Nuestros Niños

Oral Health Access

A report commissioned by Dientes Community Dental Care in April 2016 titled, “Increasing Access to Dental Services for Children and Adults on the Central Coast,” found that 24% of children in Santa Cruz County suffer from untreated dental decay, while only 43% of families on Medi-Cal with children ages 0-3 utilize their children’s dental benefit. In addition, approximately two-thirds of dentists in the area aren’t seeing children by their first birthday, or the emergence of their first tooth, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.


In response to these findings and others, Dientes Community Dental Care (Dientes) created the Oral Health Access Steering Committee and invited First 5 Santa Cruz County and other community leaders to participate on the Committee. Co-Chaired by Supervisor Zach Friend and Dr. Sepi Walthard, the Dental Director for Dientes, the Steering Committee quickly set about the task of identifying viable strategies to improve oral health access in Santa Cruz County.


After extensive review of the report, consultation with experts, and discussion with members, the Steering Committee arrived at three top recommendations:

  1. Launch a “First Tooth, First Birthday” campaign to promote dental visits and the establishment of a dental home by children’s first birthday, or the emergence of their first tooth, whichever comes sooner. The goal of the campaign is to increase Medi-Cal dental utilization rates for children ages 0-3 from 43% to 60% by 2020.
  2. Require kindergarten or first grade dental screenings in Santa Cruz County with the goal of maintaining dental utilization rates of 65% for children ages 4-6 by 2020.
  3. Expand dental treatment, prevention, and clinical capacity in Santa Cruz County with the goal of serving an additional 8,000 Santa Cruz County children, adults, and seniors. This recommendation will specifically focus on:
  • Training pediatricians and support staff to apply fluoride varnish and conduct oral screenings at well-child visits; and
  • Recruiting more mid-level providers and pediatric dentists to the community.


First 5 has joined the Central California Alliance for Health as a co-lead of the “First Tooth, First Birthday” campaign and with Dientes’ support will engage in a multi-year, multi-phase effort to promote “First Tooth, First Birthday” messaging throughout Santa Cruz County.