The Chelsea School Dental Center at Williams Middle School in Chelsea, Massachusetts, has reopened after being shut down for eight months due to pandemic restrictions. The clinic is staffed by five providers from the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM) and five dental assistants.
Before the pandemic, these providers saw students five days a week after school, treating approximately 500 to 600 patients each year by providing basic restorations, prevention, and oral health education to students in the Chelsea Public School System.
“Regardless of insurance, we see everyone who is living in the city of Chelsea and is enrolled in the Chelsea Public Schools,” said Dr. Lina Benslimane, member of the GSDM Department of Global and Population Health, clinical instructor of Health Policy & Health Services Research, and provider at the clinic.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, Chelsea’s schools shut down, and the dental center had to close. Chelsea was one of the hardest hit communities in the state, GSDM said, with the highest COVID-19 infection rate in Massachusetts at one point.
Benslimane said the Chelsea School Dental Center fills an important hole in the community that was left gaping open during the eight-month closure.
“There is no dental health center for kids,” Benslimane said. “All are private offices, and there are a lot of people who are in need. They don’t have insurance. Regardless of insurance, we’re seeing everybody, and it’s important for kids to get oral healthcare.”
By January 2021, with approval and protocols in place, the Department of Global & Population Health was ready to provide care again. A construction mishap shut off power in the first floor of the school and a winter snowstorm further delayed the dental center’s reopening, though, but it was operational by February 2021.
The pandemic has required some operational changes, Benslimane said. It now runs four days a week instead of five, as the school is closed on Friday for sanitizing purposes. It also has reduced its patient load from seven or eight patients a day to four. Providers wear full personal protective equipment including N95 masks as well.
“There’s much more paperwork and much more screening over the phone,” Benslimane said. “[We’re] asking really detailed questions, and when they come we take their temperature and ask another screening.”
Despite the changes, Benslimane said that she and the other providers are happy to be back.
“This is what my life is,” she said. “To work with patients, mouth to teeth.”