And Dr. Ortega wants to get the word out that she is ready and willing to take on patients from outside the S. Lake Tahoe region who qualify.
Mireya Ortega, DDS, established the Young Tahoe Smiles program to provide free dental care to patients between the ages of 6 and 16 who don't have insurance.
In December 2010, with the financial assistance of some friends and angel donors, Dr. Ortega established Young Tahoe Smiles for kids and teens whose families do not have dental insurance and who do not qualify for Medicaid or other state or federal assistance.
So far the program has helped about 30 children, with Dr. Ortega donating services totaling about $60,000, she told DrBicuspid.com. Of that $60,000, the families have contributed a total of $690, she added. Patients are screened based on need, and according to federal poverty levels they are asked to pay $5-$10 per visit -- something that gives the families a sense of pride, according to Dr. Ortega.
"One of the things I've noticed is that because they haven't had access to care or insurance, most of these patients are requiring about $2,000 worth of dentistry, if we based it on a national average standard dental fee schedule," she said. "We see quite a few cavities, and many have to be removed. Fortunately, many are deciduous teeth. If it is an adult first molar, we try to take action to save the tooth, such as a root canal."
Bridging a gap
Before relocating to South Lake Tahoe with her husband in 1999 and opening High Sierra Dental Care, Dr. Ortega taught at the University of California, Los Angeles, school of dentistry. During her last five years in Los Angeles she also ran the Venice Dental Center, a low-income community clinic.
“The difficult part has been getting the word out.”
— Dr. Mireya Ortega, Young Tahoe Smiles
She established Young Tahoe Smiles to bridge a gap in the services offered to low-income families in the area, she said.
"There is a mobile van that comes into our community that treats kids under five, and another program that helps kids 18 and over," she said. "So I try to address the ones in the middle."
Dr. Ortega provides basic diagnostic and preventive services, including fillings, extractions, and root canals. "Anything we need to do to get them back to a stable state so they can focus on being kids," she said. She also provides education on good oral hygiene habits and is starting to work on a nutritional program, as well.
Other organizations in the community, such as Tahoe Magic, donate additional funding and support, Dr. Ortega added.
"The program has always been available to any child of a family that meets the criteria, but the difficult part has been getting the word out," she said. "I am hoping to create action among my colleagues by spreading the word. If they are nearby or have families or know families that need access and can't afford it, hopefully we can help them out."
Click here to learn more about Dr. Ortega and the Young Tahoe Smiles program.