By Danilae Smith
Parenting OC: What are the trends that are happening in OC children’s dental care?
Liz Bear: I use the term “epidemic” because in OC, one in three children have visible signs of decay. This is a disease and we have to think differently about oral health care. For me, I think the shocking point is that we live in this incredible county, so many of our kids have oral disease, and it’s completely preventable.
POC: Who benefits from Healthy Smiles?
LB: We are accessible to all children throughout OC and our mission is to focus on kids in underserved areas. The Children and Families Commission fund us and is interested in kids ages zero to 5. We found that those first years are so critical in a child’s development. The coming together of those interests is how Healthy Smiles started and how it’s reached it’s tremendous growth in four years.
POC: What got you involved in Healthy Smiles?
LB: I grew up in Los Angeles and I would volunteer at a children’s hospital. Some of the kids couldn’t get regular treatment services, and would end up in the hospital with painful situations that could have been prevented. This sparked my personal interest in how to make health care for kids better.
POC: How do your kids inspire your work?
LB: I thought that I was doing the best that I could for my kids. I knew that they loved to go to bed nursing or with the bottle. When I had my third child, I couldn’t understand why she had more cavities than her brothers. I didn’t know that you shouldn’t let a baby fall asleep with the bottle or that breast milk has sugar. It was motivating to want to help educate other moms and dads.
POC: Why is Healthy Smiles important today?
LB: We can help get you connected to a low-cost dental provider, access to health care services and the insurance you’re entitled to. People think of South County as where everyone’s wealthy — which is just not true. There are pockets of huge need, and we’re trying to communicate that Healthy Smiles is bringing our Smile Mobile to South County to help those that require our services.
POC: What makes Healthy Smiles unique?
LB: It’s a specialty service and when it started 10 years ago, it was the only place that kids who didn’t have insurance could get general anesthesia. We help other organizations become more sophisticated and in providing general anesthesia sedation services to community clinics. We’re in the teaching schools at Dentistry of USC and CHOC helping dentists get used to working in community settings. We are currently working collaboratively with over a dozen clinics.
POC: How can parents promote healthy smiles in their own homes?
LB: I think the basic things that parents need to know is that children need to see a dentist every six months — whether or not the child complains. Some basic things are: stay away from sugary drinks, don’t put your baby to bed with the bottle and help your child brush their teeth. These basics can make a huge difference.
Owner, Healthy Smiles and Smile Mobile. Liz is a mother of three and a resident of Lake Forest. More information is available at www.healthysmilesoc.org.