Los Angeles resident Rosa Ceron and her family have been struggling to make ends meet since she lost her job and her husband suffered a heart attack.
Many necessities, including regular doctor and dentist visits, were put on the back burner because, Ceron said, the family doesn't have money to fund those things. But Ceron and her children got a unique opportunity Saturday to get eye and teeth exams for free at the fourth annual Kids Health and Fitness Expo.
"Right now, we don't have money to pay for services to find out what's wrong with you," she said. "I think this [event] is great."
Ceron, 50, found out about the expo, which Glendale Healthy Kids hosted at Pacific Park, from fliers distributed at her children's school, Delevan Drive Elementary in Los Angeles.
Families from throughout Los Angeles County have attended the event in the past to get free services and information on vital healthcare programs from 40 vendors and organizations, said Camille Levee, executive director of Glendale Healthy Kids.
High deductibles and co-pays for doctor or dentist visits have forced some families to forgo medical care, she said.
"When it's something minor, they just don't go to the doctor," Levee said.
The organization established the event in an effort to improve children's health so it could better focus on education, she said.
Recent studies have shown children most often miss school because they have a cold or tooth pain, said Dr. Santosh Sundaresan, assistant professor of clinical dentistry at USC's School of Dentistry. Other oral healthcare issues, including gum disease, may lead to greater medical issues, he added.
"That's the top two main causes of kids not going to school," he said. "If preventive measures are taken at a young age, not only is their attendance better, they have found their school grades to be better."
Sundaresan and his team of seven dental school students examined children for tooth decay and made recommendations if further work was needed.
The dental students also educated parents and children on proper oral healthcare techniques and offered dentistry work at their school for a discount rate.
"It's a whole cycle, and it all starts from preventive care," Sundaresan said.
Improving kids' vision at an early age also allows them to better focus on education, said Vincent De Santis, zone chairman of the Northwest Glendale Lions Club.
The club recently launched its KidSight program, which offers free eye exams to infants, toddlers and preschool children in an effort to detect any visual impairment early.
The club received grant funding from the Community Foundation of the Verdugos to purchase equipment that takes photographs of children's eyes, he said.
The photographs are sent to a vision-care facility, where specialists review the eyes for abnormalities. The club shares the facility's findings with parents, who can, if necessary, schedule further eye exams with an optometrist.
Burbank Noon Lions club launched the same program last July and has screened more than 60 children, club member Marva Murphy said. Of those children, only two have some abnormalities in their eyes, she added.