Health + Behavior

UCLA Dentistry to lead Medi-Cal project to expand preventive dental care for L.A. children

Four-year project focuses on increasing preventive dental services for children and adolescents

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Child at dentist
UCLA School of Dentistry

The UCLA program will use information technology to enhance the quality of care for young people and develop new ways to expand preventive services at clinics and community settings.

UCLA will lead a pilot program to expand preventive dental care for 500,000 Los Angeles children enrolled in Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid health care program.

The UCLA-led project — the largest of 15 such programs recently approved by the state’s Department of Health Care Services — is part of the Medi-Cal 2020 Dental Transformation Initiative and will run through December 2020. 

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, only about one-third of California’s 6.1 million children and adolescents enrolled in Medi-Cal receive preventive dental care each year. Preventive services not only help maintain good oral health, but they also help reduce the need for costly treatment for tooth decay and cavities in hospitals and emergency departments.

The UCLA program will focus on three primary goals: using information technology to enhance the quality and continuity of care; developing new ways to expand preventive services both within clinics and community settings; and integrating oral health care services across dental, medical and community providers.

“The Dental Transformative Initiative provides an incredible opportunity to expand UCLA’s recent work with local community partners to improve the oral health of children at greatest risk for dental disease throughout Los Angeles County,” said Dr. James Crall, the project director, a professor of public health and community dentistry at the UCLA School of Dentistry.

Crall also is director of the UCLA–First 5 LA Oral Health Program, an initiative to improve oral health care for young children and pregnant women that is supported by First 5 LA, an early childhood advocacy organization.

“Our First 5 LA–funded work has demonstrated the power of combining resources from the university and community partners to address challenges that require collaborative solutions,” said Crall, who is also a faculty associate at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. “Given that one-quarter of all California children enrolled in Medi-Cal live in Los Angeles County, we clearly need to engage more critical stakeholders to create the meaningful system changes that will truly transform oral health care for children on Medi-Cal.” 

Collaborators in the new pilot program include local dental and medical organizations, Medi-Cal and Denti-Cal plans, early childhood programs, the Altarum Institute, DataStat, the Dental Quality Alliance, RAND Corporation, the Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine, the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and other experts in quality improvement.

“This is an excellent opportunity for UCLA Dentistry to further engage the Los Angeles community and improve oral health care for generations to come,” said Dr. Paul Krebsbach, the school’s dean. “This program is on par with our broader vision I have for the dental school to get our student dentists, residents and faculty members providing dental services to underserved Angelenos.”

Crall said that the dental school will also seek partnership with Los Angeles County agencies, organizations and community programs focused on improving the health and well-being of children and families.

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