OnCentral | Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

A denture lab in a Watts clinic provides South LA patients with a second chance at a smile

Dr. Frazier Moore, Watts Health Center's dental director, points to a molar on a full set of dentures. Last year, Watts' dental wing doled out 470 sets of dentures.
José Martinez/KPCC

Richard Silva has a set of teeth in his hand, which he's grinding "ever so slightly" with a drill, as he puts it.

Thankfully, this set of teeth is fake.

Silva is the sole technician who works at the Watts Health Center's on-site dental lab. That's where he makes dentures – among other oral prosthetics – for the South Los Angeles patients who come through the health center's dental wing. The false teeth are given at low or even no cost.

The set he's working on has a bite pattern that needs adjusting.

"We missed the bite, ever so slightly," he said, maneuvering the drill over fake molars. "A bite that's a millimeter off sounds small, but that means you're not able to use [the dentures] at all. They're not functional."

For more than 40 years, Watts Health Center has provided this service, making it the only Federally Qualified Health Center in South L.A. to have this kind of lab.


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CDC: Nearly 15 percent were uninsured in 2012; South LA rate is more than double

Receptionist Stephany Bustillo processes information for patients at UMMA Community Clinic in South Los Angeles, where an estimated 38 percent of adults are uninsured. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that in 2012, nearly 15 percent of the American population lacked health insurance.
Christopher Okula/KPCC

More than 45 million people in the U.S. had no health insurance in 2012, and the number of people who'd spent at least part of the previous year uninsured approached 58 million.

That's according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which also noted that when the data was gathered, more than 34 million people had been uninsured for more than a year.

That means in 2012, nearly 15 percent of the American population didn't have health insurance. Double that percentage and it's still a ways off from where South Los Angeles is: According to the latest data from the L.A. County Department of Public Health, more than 38 percent of the area's adults are uninsured.

The same goes for almost 9 percent of South L.A.'s children and teenagers.

Both of those rates are the highest of any area in Los Angeles County, where overall, about 29 percent of adults and 5 percent of children are uninsured.


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Study suggests link between food commercials and obesity in Latino youth

Researchers found that about 50 percent of Spanish-language TV food advertisements are trying to sell fast food, candy or cereal.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

The average Latino child or teen probably viewed upwards of 4,200 food commercials on TV in 2010.

That's about 12 food ads daily, according to the authors of a new study appearing in JAMA Pediatrics, who suggest that may have something to do with the high rates of obesity among Latino youth.

The latest data on South Los Angeles from the county's Department of Public Health indicates that more than two-thirds of the area's total population is Latino. It also notes that nearly 30 percent of southside children between 2 and 17 years of age watch at least three hours of TV daily.

Both of those rates are among the highest in the county.

South L.A. also has the dubious distinction of possessing the highest child obesity rate in Los Angeles County: Almost 30 percent of children in the fifth, seventh and ninth grades are clinically obese.


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Black, Latino children with autism seem less likely to get certain kinds of specialty care

Eight year-old Michael Dedrick-Dwyer, who has cerebral palsy and autism, rides a horse with therapist Rebecca Reubens and a volunteer. A new study appearing in Pediatrics found racial differences in the ways children with autism used specialty care – for example, like that a neurologist would provide.
Tom Ervin/Getty Images

Black and Latino children living with autism appear to be using certain specialty care services less often than their white counterparts, according to a new report.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that minority children are less likely to see doctors who specialize in the brain, the mind or the digestive system, and as a result are less likely to undergo the tests those doctors can perform.

In South Los Angeles, early identification and intervention often doesn't happen for autism because of a widespread lack of access to health care, particularly to those providers who are qualified to diagnose the condition.

Areva Martin, the president and co-founder of Special Needs Network, Inc. said in an interview in March that the ideal window for diagnosis is when a child is 1 or 2 years old:


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Primary care doctor shortage continues, impact felt in South LA

The lead author of a new study describes the U.S. rate of primary care doctor production as "abysmal."
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Fewer than 1 in 4 new doctors are going into the field of primary care, according to a new study – which is to say the primary care doctor shortage isn't going away anytime soon. 

That's particularly true in under-resourced South Los Angeles, where doctors in general come at a premium. The low- or no-cost health centers that provide safety-net care to the area's largely uninsured population can't pay a doctor as much as a private practice would, which is part of the reason why so much of the care provision falls on the shoulders of mid-level providers, like nurses and physician assistants.

But the shortage isn't unique to South Los Angeles. Earlier this year, a U.S. Senate report said the country needs 16,000 additional primary care doctors to meet the current need. One problem: It's not the most alluring field of medicine. Doctors who become specialists (e.g. cardiologists, neurologists, orthopedists) tend to have lower patient loads than those of primary care providers – and tend to make much more money.


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