Above, dental screenings are an important part of the third annual Tooth Fairy Convention, held this month at Exposition Park. It was sponsored by the L.A. Trust for Children’s Health.
Like most kids, Brenda Garcia used to hate going to the dentist. She found the noise annoying. She hated being poked in the mouth with a sharp metal implement. She worried about the pain.
Then, while enrolled in a medical terminology class at Elizabeth Learning Center, she learned just what those dental procedures were all about. Already working in the Wellness Center that operates at her K-12 school in Cudahy, Garcia began volunteering in a dental office, where she became inspired by the professionals who “work with their hearts.” She also joined the board of the nonprofit Los Angeles Trust for Children’s Health, which serves wellness centers at Elizabeth and 14 other schools in the District.
And, she set her sights on a career in dentistry.
“I cannot believe that I went from having fear of going to the dentist to actually wanting to become one of them,” said Garcia, who is in her senior year. “Now that I have become a stronger person after personal growth, I know I want to be part of the dental field.”
To help Garcia pursue her studies, the L.A. Trust awarded her a $1,000 scholarship. The announcement was made earlier this month at the organization’s annual Tooth Fairy Convention, where more than 600 students and families received dental screenings and learned about the importance of oral health care.
Among those attending was School Board Member Dr. Ref Rodriguez, who noted that more than 300,000 L.A. Unified students have visited L.A. Trust wellness centers.
“We saw so many students, families and community members smiling and soaking up the resources at the information tables,” he said. “I am proud that our wellness programs provide our students and families with such a wide range of services and opportunities.”
During the third annual convention, held at Exposition Park, the District recognized more than 70 parents as “Tooth Fairies in their Community” for supporting school-based oral screenings. In addition, Healthy Start staff members Sylvia Renteria and Miriam Villasenor, District nurse Janis Lake and Drs. Michael Beraland Ryan Huang received Tooth Fairy of the Year awards for their contributions to oral health.
Although she is still in high school, Garcia already is a strong advocate for ensuring that children obtain preventative oral care, beginning at an early age.
She has learned that student absences are linked to dental problems, so she holds parent workshops in the Elizabeth Wellness Center to talk about the importance of oral health and how to access services. While volunteering at the dental office, she also learned to ease the apprehension of young patients – the same fears she herself had once experienced.
And Garcia also encourages her siblings to brush and floss twice a day, noting, “What people see is your smile and you should always have confidence in your smile.”
“When I become a dentist I want to help others by giving them the dental care that they need, and making sure to inform the community about dental health and to improve their access to a dentist,” she said. “As the population is growing, I want to be ready to provide them my assistance, and give the best possible treatment.
“I also hope to influence little kids to follow my example and go from having a fear to becoming a dentist.”