Dental health program benefits low-income kids

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

Seven-year-old Alejandro Carlos happily eases a cookie out of his mouth and smiles widely enough to show three silver teeth that replaced decayed ones just months ago.

He loves to laugh, his energy level keeping his mother busy at all times, and shows even more teeth with fillings with each facial expression.

But Alejandro seems oblivious to the work that has been done in his mouth and describes his first trip to the dentist as if it were a homework assignment.

'I went to school and there was pain on my teeth, my face was swollen and then the other side swelled,' he said before taking another bite of cookie. 'My teacher sent me to the dentist. They gave me orange juice and grape juice to go to sleep. And then I woke up and went home. My teeth dont

hurt anymore.'

Alejandro had endured tooth pain for a week before his face began to swell. It was then that his mother, Maria Correa, made a connection with Healthy Kids Solano, a locally developed and funded program that provides comprehensive health coverage for uninsured children of low-income families in Solano County.

Correa never applied for any type of insurance because she didnt know whom to ask and wasnt sure she qualified because of her immigrant status. Correa followed her husband from Mexico to the United States three years ago. But by late last year, she found herself divorced, pregnant and unable to communicate with others because of the language barrier.

Healthy Kids Solano came to her rescue.

'If this program didnt exist, Alejandro would have bad teeth and I wouldnt have the money to pay for it,' Correa said.

Healthy Kids Solano, created last year, builds upon state-sponsored programs such as MediCal and Healthy Family programs. It helps provide health, dental, vision and mental health coverage for the uninsured children in families that cannot afford private health care.

Jacque McLaughlan, director of Health Insurance for Kids, can utter the number of insured children in the county within a heartbeat.

'Ninety-six percent of the children in the county have health insurance,' she said matter of factly. Its a number that ranks Solano County among the top counties in the state in the number of children insured.

The high rates are the result of the Solano Kids Insurance Program, a program of the Solano Coalition for Better Health, which began in 1998. It is a county-wide resource that assists low- and moderate-income parents in obtaining health insurance for their children.

The efforts to achieve their goal have produced prominent results. When SKIP began, 15,000 children in the county didnt have insurance. Nine years later, roughly 3,000 to 4,000 children remain uninsured in Solano.

Healthy Kids Solano was created to help further reduce that number and embrace the number of children whose families are ineligible for MediCal and Healthy Family programs

It provides comprehensive coverage for 1,200 children at a cost of $1.4 million per year. Funding is generated by First 5 Solano, endowments and local businesses that are asked to contribute $120,000 per year for premiums.

Santa Clara County was one of the first to offer the program, which currently has 86,000 children enrolled.

A four-year study in Santa Clara of children enrolled in the program showed preventive care increased by 11 percent, repeated sick visits decreased by 50 percent, unmet needs for medical or dental care were cut almost in half and parental worry reduced dramatically.

'These are wonderful results, and we can expect to see similar results for the children we enroll in the Health Kids Solano program,' McLaughlan said.

A big focus of late for the county is oral health, which McLaughlan said is a significant issue in the county.

The Solano Coalition for Better Health developed a program to improve oral health, so children such as Alejandro can achieve better hygiene.

'Oral health is tied heavily to nutrition,' McLaughlan said. 'We need to make sure kids get to see a dentist for preventive work so we dont have little kids experiencing pain.'

Correa, who pays $7 a month for Healthy Kids, is hoping other families will become aware of the program to help their own children.

In the meantime, Alejandro has his next dentist appointment in six months and says he takes care of his teeth by brushing daily.