Through the virtual dental home program, young children receive preventive care at a pop-up dental clinic at their school.
Through the virtual dental home program, young children receive preventive care at a pop-up dental clinic at their school.

“Virtual Dental Home” Program Brings Dental Care to Local Elementary Students

Author: Public Health Department
Date: 2/20/2019 2:59:17 PM

The Public Health Department is pleased to announce the launch of a new effort to bring dental care to more SLO County children: the virtual dental home program.


Through this state-funded program, a dental hygienist and care coordinator visit three local elementary schools to provide cleanings, X-rays, fluoride treatment and sealants. X-rays and records for each student are sent electronically to a dentist, who can then provide more complex treatment as needed. As a result, kids get more regular dental care—meaning fewer complex problems in the long run. Plus: children stay in school and parents stay at work instead of taking time off for appointments.

The program is rolling out in February and March at three South County schools: Grover Beach Elementary, Nipomo Elementary, and Oceano Elementary. (In North County, Tolosa Children's Dental Center runs a virtual dental home program at Shandon Elementary.) The team will spend one week at a time at each school, seeing a total of about 100 students per month. 

The hygienist and care coordinator travel with equipment that easily fits in the trunk of a car so they can readily create a “pop up” dental clinic at the school. This technology has become more portable and affordable over the last decade, just as consumer cameras have become smaller and lighter. The name comes from the concept of every person having a "dental home" where they receive regular care.

The approach allows one dentist to serve many more children than otherwise possible, a benefit that’s especially important in places like SLO County with relatively few dentists who accept Medi-Cal Dental benefits. Only 45 percent of children enrolled in Medi-Cal Dental had a dental visit in 2015-2016. In large part, this is because of difficulty finding dentists who accept the benefits. Many other factors—like transportation barriers and the need for parents to take time off from work—also play a role.

Locally, as nationally, the need is significant: in SLO County, close to 45 percent of children have cavities by the time they reach third grade—and that number increases to nearly 70 percent for children in low-income communities. Nationwide, tooth decay is the most prevalent childhood disease, five times more common than asthma.

The virtual dental home program holds promise to address these barriers directly, connecting more children with high-quality dental care. It’s part of a multi-part strategy to expand access to dental care while building a comprehensive oral health system of care for SLO County children. To learn more about the Public Health Department’s oral health program, visit slocounty.ca.gov/dental