August 1, 2023 (OAKLAND, CA) – Dr. Huong Le, Chief Dental Officer at Asian Health Services, spoke today of the skyrocketing dental need in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Community, and her Dental Clinics is rising up to meet the need. “How can you have good health if you don’t have good teeth?” emphasizes Dr. Le as she listed out the essential critical care and specialty care her clinic provides:
- Emergency care
- Preventive services
- Pediatric dentistry
- Oral health education
- Primary dental care
- Reconstructive services
- Oral surgery
- Periodontics — specializing in gum disease and implants,
- Endodontics — specializing in root canals
The dental program delivers care to patients of all ages in 12 Asian languages and Sign Language.
Recognizing the dramatic increase in dental need, Asian Health Services (AHS) pioneered innovative approaches to increase access to oral health care and integrated health care, with a history of firsts over the past 20+ years since they launched the Oral Health Care Program at AHS to what is now six dental sites, including three fixed, three school-based sites, and a mobile clinic van:
- The AHS dental program is the only health center in the state to provide four dental specialties on-site for its patients (pediatric dentistry, endodontics, periodontics, and oral surgery).
- In 2015, AHS led the opening of the first standalone Integrated Behavioral Health Dental program where patients receive depression screening and counseling for behavioral health issues at their dental visit. Behavioral health care integrated within dental care is critical for AHS’ patients given the stigma surrounding mental health in the AAPI community.
- In 2017, the new dental clinic site was staffed with an on-site Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) to provide immediate “warm connections” to dental patients as needed.
- In 2019, AHS launched the first integrated care model by implementing routine testing of Hemoglobin A1C to diagnose diabetes for dental patients.
- AHS has been a leader in fostering school-based oral health care, partnering with the Oakland Unified School District and the Alameda County Public Health Department. AHS has provided dental screenings and treatment for students at Franklin Elementary School since 2012, at Lincoln Elementary School since 2014, and at Oakland High School since 2015.
- Students at these school-based sites have access to on-campus and convenient services, including dental cleaning, x-rays, fluoride treatment, sealants, fillings and crowns, and extractions.
- This school-based model of oral health care reduces transportation barriers to many poor families in the community.
- AHS’ partnership with Alameda Head Start to provide dental screening and apply fluoride varnish to their clients has helped the program to achieve 100% in dental objectives in the last few years.
- AHS was an early adopter of teledentistry in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which allows patients to be evaluated and receive advice from dental staff without needing to leave their homes. Teledentistry offers a number of advantages that will continue to improve access to care for AHS’ patients even after the pandemic wanes.
- AHS initiated an innovative drive-through oral health screening and a fluoride varnish clinic for children during the pandemic. The drive-through clinic has been extremely popular with parents and has since expanded to a weekly program providing a wider range of dental services for pediatric patients.
- In 2023, the dental program began another pilot program referred to as remote dental preventive program. With parents’ consent, the fluoride varnish kits are mailed to the home, then Dental providers and parents schedule a video telehealth visit. Under the supervision of the provider, parents place fluoride varnish on the child. This program empowers the parents to take ownership of their child’s dental health and is a successful prevention strategy. It also helps parents to save time, transportation costs, receive appointments earlier and more convenient for their schedule.
- The dental clinic partnered to help ensure COVID testing and vaccination success. In recognition of its efforts and impact, AHS dental program was selected by the Alameda County Department of public Health to be the pilot site for Covid PCR CUE tests in the county.
- AHS has proven itself to be a leader in the covid-19 pandemic. Its preparedness for the pandemic has been featured in Journal of California Dental Association in February 2023..
AHS started in 1974 as a one-room clinic in Oakland Chinatown staffed completely by student volunteers and community activists. Currently, AHS provides approximately 150,000 medical, dental, behavioral health, and specialty mental health visits annually and is a nationally recognized comprehensive community health center model for serving a primarily low-income, limited English-speaking population. AHS provides comprehensive culturally and linguistically competent healthcare to low-income, uninsured, and underinsured patients across Alameda County, California.
As AHS strives to accommodate patient and community needs, pent up demand and the COVID pandemic has created extremely long waiting times for care, potentially exacerbating dental health and overall health issues.
Dr. Le expressed optimism and commitment to meet the rising needs of Alameda County’s vulnerable and underserved AAPI populations. “We are focused and excited,” said Dr. Le. “AHS Dental Clinic’s action plan for the next five years includes the addition of a new fixed clinic site, as well as using mobile vans to reach and meet the needs of patients where the patients are.”