Over the past 50 years, increased knowledge about the benefits of improved oral hygiene practices and access to more advanced preventive and restorative dental services have changed the landscape of oral health, but primarily for a more privileged demographic. For less fortunate populations, access to these health benefits has been more elusive. For example, children of farmworkers experience a rate of dental decay almost double that of children born to middle-class parents.
For years at Sonrisas Dental Health, we’ve worked to understand and alleviate the stark reality facing thousands of farmworkers working the fields in and near Half Moon Bay, California. This underrepresented demographic faces a long list of social and economic obstacles. While lack of dental care is only one challenge in the lives of these community members, its impact on overall well-being makes it a serious public health issue.
The Hidden Ache of Farmworkers
Multiple studies have exposed this disparity. In one survey of farmworkers, more than half of respondents reported having untreated cavities. Another 33 percent were missing teeth, and 80 percent hadn’t seen a dentist in the past year. As noted, children of farmworkers have a rate of dental decay almost double that of children born to middle-class parents.
Poor oral health has been linked to cardiovascular problems, diabetes and other systemic diseases. People who are missing teeth tend to eat poorly and, therefore, may lack life-sustaining nutrients. Ongoing pain affects job performance, quality of sleep, mood and overall happiness.
At Sonrisas Dental Health, we are working to remove obstacles to care that farmworkers face, such as:
Transportation - Farms are rarely close to a dental office or clinic. Without transportation, even the most basic dental services are almost impossible to attain. At Sonrisas, we travel to the farmworkers to provide dental care directly where they live and work. As the slogan on the side of our truck says, “We go the extra mile for your smile!”
Financial Challenges - For many people, even if transportation options exist, dental services are unaffordable. Our non-profit model at Sonrisas Dental Health allows us to use earnings from patients who have private dental insurance to help cover some of the care provided to those who can’t afford it.
Language - As reported by a countless array of migrant agricultural workers, finding a dental clinic with bilingual staff isn’t always possible. Sonrisas proudly employs many bilingual employees to ensure patients have their oral health needs met in the language they understand best.
Hope for Healthier Teeth and Happier Smiles
It’s surprising, indeed astonishing, that the topic of oral healthcare is barely represented in national healthcare discussions. Fundamental health-restoring dental services shouldn’t be limited to only those who can afford them.
Bursting through these barriers to care is no easy task, but the determination and dedication of national and local healthcare providers, like our dental team at Sonrisas, is slowly closing this gap. By providing access to oral health education and essential disease-preventive treatments, we’re not merely making brighter smiles. We’re improving people’s lives.
NOTE: Here are two ways to support the Sonrisas Dental Health Farmworkers Program:
1) Make a tax-deductible contribution.
2) Become a patient of Sonrisas Dental Health! You'll get excellent dental care, and private insurance helps to cover the dental care cost of farmworkers and others who need it. Call us at 650.727.3480.