«Return to Community Spotlight Listing Participa! Dental brings smiles to Bernalillo Children

child in dental chair

Participa! Dental, a nonprofit organization in Bernalillo, offers no out-of-pocket cost to parents, the convenience of dental care done in schools, education about oral health and friendly smiles to students who need it the most.

Began in 1997 and at one point providing dental care across the whole state of New Mexico, Participa! Dental is now led by lifelong residents of Bernalillo, sisters Kristin Jaramillo RDH and Charlotte Branson, RN.

Alongside licensed dentists and registered dental hygienists, the sisters rotate their services across schools in Bernalillo, Farmington, Bloomfield and Santa Rosa.

“We don’t do x-rays, we don’t do restorative work. We do exams. We see everybody on exam day, the first day. After that we do the cleaning, we do a fluoride treatment, we do a sealant, and now we offer silver diamine fluoride,” said Branson.

Silver diamine fluoride (SDF) is a relatively new offering that promises to increase access and affordability for those in need of preventative dental work. A single application stops a cavity from spreading or enlarging, effectively saving the tooth without needing a restorative filling treatment. In 2022, Participa! Dental was nominated for an award because they were the only school practice offering SDF in New Mexico.

“It’s new research and it’s exciting for me. It’s a first line of defense because, oftentimes, we find children not getting their recommended treatments taken care of. We noticed in our off-season evaluations – seeing where the need is – we are the only cleaning they’ve been getting and that’s not what we want. We want them to see their dentists once a year so they can get the x-rays, they can get their fillings taken care of.” said Jaramillo.

Preventative measures have become even more important after COVID blocked many from receiving proper healthcare.

“During COVID, we really had to think outside the box. How can we reach these kids? We offered fluoride treatments at lunch pick-up sites here in Bernalillo. We still felt like ‘Man, these families are not taking advantage like we had hoped.’ We also made a video that we sent to the schools and they showed it to their students during remote learning. It was us reminding them the importance of keeping up with teeth brushing and whatnot,” said Branson.

Still, lack of regular health and dental check-ups has been a major problem post-COVID and Participa! Dental has seen an uptick in dental problems, including increased cases of periodontal disease, especially in high school students.

“If you’re predisposed to that, a person should come in more frequently to get their teeth cleaned. But during that break, they weren’t able to, so their tartar builds up a lot faster, a lot more. To get back on track, more difficult, deep cleanings are necessary, and more frequent cleanings are recommended. That’s what we’ve had to do,” said Jaramillo.

Participa! Dental provides these services to students through billing Medicaid and private dental insurances. They also have a small grant for children who do not have any medical insurance.

“Towards the end of the school year, we’ve run out of funds. Every year without fail, we’ve done more time, more services, more product. A lot of it is just a write-off,” said Branson.

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