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Grey Bears volunteers Maribel Perez (left) and Terry Kirihara examine the new dental hygiene kits Thursday that were packed for the first time into food packages for low-income seniors. Photo: Todd Guild/The Pajaronian

Dozens of volunteers at Grey Bears were busy Thursday morning around two long tables loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables—along with other pantry staples—making packages to be delivered to seniors throughout Santa Cruz County.

The large warehouse was filled with laughter and lively chatter more reminiscent of a party than a work line.

“This is a typical Thursday morning at Grey Bears,” said Grey Bears Executive Director Jennifer Merchant. “This is the quintessential volunteer experience.”

While distribution of food packages has been a central component of Grey Bears’ services for years, new this year in the packages is a dental hygiene kit, along with a pamphlet with information on accessing low-cost dentistry.

Eventually, 16,000 dental hygiene kits—donated by Delta Dental—will be distributed through Grey Bears and Meals on Wheels.

That is part of a $5 million investment in senior oral health in Santa Cruz County through a five-year grant to Salud Para La Gente and Dientes.

The kits—along with a monthly dental clinic at the Mid-County site—are part of a new partnership with sliding scale fees by Dientes Community Dental Care in a program created to bring the essential service to low-income seniors.

Monthly dental clinics will also be offered at Elderday in Watsonville.

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Dr. Samuel Kuo speaks with patient Jose Mendoza after an exam at the mobile clinic at Grey Bears in Santa Cruz. It was the first day for the clinic, which will be offered monthly. Photo: Todd Guild/The Pajaronian

While proper oral care is known to be a crucial part of one’s overall healthcare, Medicare does not include it.

That is a problem for the senior community, where 1 in 5 seniors in the U.S. is missing a full set of teeth, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

The 2022 Oral Health Report by Dientes showed that only 1 in 4 low-income seniors can afford care, spokeswoman Sheree Storm said.

That impacts multiple areas of their lives, Merchant said. 

“For us at Grey Bears, the partnership to further seniors’ health and dignity is super important,” she said. “Dental health is related to so many other health markers—as well as socialization—which we know is key for keeping people healthy long into their life.”

Dientes’ Outreach Program, which also includes several elementary schools and skilled nursing facilities, provides dental care for those who have challenges getting to a clinic. 

Basic dental services are provided from exams and cleanings to fluoride treatments. More complicated treatment is referred to one of four Dientes’ clinics, including the new 1500 Capitola Road clinic and is part of a health and housing campus with Santa Cruz Community Health and MidPen Housing.

For information, call 464.9391 or visit dientes.org.

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA. https://pajaronian.com/r-p-reporter-honored-by-csba/


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