Just over a quarter century ago, two local dentists decided there were too many people in Santa Cruz County with insufficient access to dental care.
In 1990, Catherine Webb and Carolyn O’Donnell started a dental-only nonprofit, which incorporated two years later as Dientes Community Dental Care.
Nearly 200 people gathered at the Dientes headquarters to celebrate the anniversary; a group that included elected officials, medical professionals and community members.
“Twenty-five years is a big number for a nonprofit,” said Dientes Development Director Sheree Storm. “What it really represents is the support of the community, and the needs of the community.”
Dientes is currently executing its 2017-20 strategic plan, whose three-pillared approach includes bringing in all children before their first tooth comes in, or before their first birthday.
The plan also includes mandatory dental screenings before kindergarten and expanding treatment options countywide.
Dientes has locations in Watsonville, Santa Cruz and in the Beach Flats neighborhood, and is in the preliminary planning stages of a new Live Oak location. Groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for 2019.
The organization now boasts 150 patients per day at three locations, a number that grows every year.
Even still, the numbers from a recent oral health survey for Santa Cruz County are grim.
According to the study, about 31 percent of children have never been to the dentist, and 24 percent have untreated dental decay.
Few seniors on Medicare have dental benefits, and just under 18 percent of adults on Medi-Cal received dental care in 2014, the survey showed.
Executive Director Laura Marcus said she felt “a lot of excitement and pride and gratefulness” at the anniversary.
Marcus also said she was proud of Dientes’ longevity, which she said is unique for a medical nonprofit limited to dental care.
“A lot of people 30 years ago never would have dreamed that a stand-alone dental clinic could have survived,” she said. “For us to do this independently just shows the support we have from the community.”