Coast Hills

TCDC aims to put kids in a dental chair early to keep them away from sedation or worse

by Joshua D. Scroggin
August 04, 2017

Suzanne Russell has seen kids come into her dental office with a mouthful of teeth so decayed that by the time they leave, they’ve got only three or four left.

These are kids who haven’t yet hit kindergarten, and their mouths are in so much pain they refuse to eat, they can’t sleep. The only solution is to put them under anesthesia and pull nearly all of their teeth.

That’s why Suzanne and Tolosa Children’s Dental Center (TCDC) are working hard to reach as many kids as possible before they’re forced to take such extreme measures. TCDC is a nonprofit dental office that aims to provide low-income families in San Luis Obispo County with first-rate oral care.

Suzanne, its clinic director, said TCDC opened in 2003 to serve the greatest unmet health need in the county. Despite seeing more than 13,000 patients since opening, dental health remains the greatest unmet need for children in SLO County.

In steps CoastHills and “I’m All In”

Jessica Sandoval is a Relationship Specialist at the CoastHills Credit Union branch in Paso Robles. She chose to join the Credit Union’s employee giving program — “I’m All In” — because she wanted to make a difference for the children in her community.

Here’s how it works: CoastHills staff can donate as little or as much as they choose to the program. It’s all voluntary, and all of the funding comes straight out of their own paychecks. Each quarter, five random participants are chosen to award $1,000 sponsorships on behalf of the entire group.

When Jessica had her name called at the Credit Union’s most recent staff meeting, she was already well aware of the great work TCDC was doing for families in Northern San Luis Obispo County. It was an easy decision for her to dedicate her donation to the dental office.

How to make a difference

It doesn’t take long for dental health to become crucial for children. Suzanne recommends seeking treatment as soon as babies get their first tooth. A major part of that first exam is educating parents, introducing healthy habits for lifelong care and teaching kids that there’s nothing to fear about the dentist.

What happens when kids don’t have access to dental care? The longer a child waits for their first exam, the more likely they are to have poor habits and advanced decay which has a negative impact on their whole lives.

Currently, TCDC operates a primary location in Paso Robles with 8 treatment chairs, including one specially designed for the littlest patients, and a satellite location in San Luis Obispo. The organization is one of only two pediatric safety net clinics in the county and the only one focusing on children and their dental needs.

There is no shortage of demand, but the organization is limited by its space and funding for staff. The San Luis Obispo office is essential for clients living in Los Osos and Morro Bay, but it’s only able to open once a week.

Although the state reimburses some of the costs, TCDC would not be able to serve the community without the fundraising efforts of the Partnership for the Children of San Luis Obispo County and from individual donations like the one from Jessica and I’m All In.

If you are interested in learning more, visit the TCDC website, which collects donations through PayPal.

“We don’t compromise care,” Suzanne said, “but we do run on a really tight budget.” 

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