WAKE COUNTY, N.C. — Many families in Wake County find it difficult to afford dental care. 

Based on a 2022 oral health report from the National Institutes of Health, about half of all American children do not receive regular dental care because of social, economic and geographic obstacles.

What You Need To Know

  • The Delta Dental Foundation awarded $87,000 in grants to more than 20 community organizations across N.C.

  • This donation helped public health clinics cover the cost of for oral health care services and education

  • Rebecca Sykes has been a dentist for Wake County Health and Human Services for a decade

One option is to go to a federally qualified health center, like the Wake County Dental Clinic. That’s where a little help comes into play.

Many children need certain treatments to prevent tooth decay. One of those dental treatments can be giving a child a sealant, which is a less expensive form of prevention against tooth decay. 

A sealant is described as a thin coating over teeth to protect against cavities. A calculator from Delta Dental estimates the cost of sealants can be close to $100, depending on zip code.

However, a "Smiles for Kids" grant from the Delta Dental Foundation, the charitable wing of the dental insurance company, is helping families pay for sealants.

The vice president of community engagement for the foundation, Elaine Loyack, said their nonprofit gave out $87,000 across the state to more than 20 community-based organizations in 2022.

Dr. Rebecca Sykes, a dentist who works for the Wake County Health and Human Services at the public health center, said a lot of parents do not have insurance.

"That’s typically a treatment most parents would elect not to have because of cost. So we’ve kind of been able to remove that financial barrier for families,” Sykes said.

Sykes said she left private practice because of the joy she felt when she helped the most vulnerable portions of society. The dentist said she loved the thought of giving as many kids as possible a healthy mouthful.

"It was actually after dental school that I fell in love with public health,” Sykes said.

The grant from DDF certainly did help one family in particular. A pair of siblings, Miguel Moradel, 11, and Allisson Moradel, 8, received sealants because of the foundation’s donation to the Wake County clinic. 

Allisson and Miguel Moradel wait after receiving a teeth cleaning

Sykes said she wants this brother and sister to feel good about their teeth.

"I had to have braces when I was younger, and I liked the feeling of feeling confident when I smile,” the public health provider said. “Knowing you were making a difference because there was access to care issues. Just seeing, working with the children. They would be so appreciative.”

Daniel Soki, a dental hygienist who works in the office, said these services offer a great relief to the families who need it. Since many of the patients who walk into the clinic are also Spanish speaking only, Soki often translates questions from the parents to Sykes. 

Marlin Moradel, Miguel and Allison's mother, used Soki as an interpreter to answer questions for this story.

"It’s a great help for the parents to get this type of work done. It shows the true love that we have here in public health to help these children,” Soki said on behalf of Marlin Moradel.

The care provided to children also has tangible benefits, like how a child views themselves in comparison to others.

"She says that she notices when they are at school, when they are at their house, being healthy and having stable teeth really goes a long way,” Soki again said on behalf of Marlin Moradel.

When the money isn’t available for families, the cleanings, X-rays and dental services mean everything.

"She says without this help, she says it would be very hard financially,” Soki said as the interpreter.

Untreated tooth decay can be a problem over time and lead to absences in school.

Sykes said the mouth is a gateway to health, and she wants access for all kids to have good oral health for a lifetime. She’s glad she began treating teeth almost 13 years ago.

Loyack said The DDF has provided this grant since 2012 to uninsured and underinsured children. To date, the WCHHS dental clinic has received $49,000 over 11 years.

The application period to receive services like sealants begins October 1.

According to a 2019-2020 report on Kindergarten oral health in the state, 15.3% of children of that school age have untreated tooth decay.