After a mandated shutdown imposed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the New York State Dental Association (NYSDA) advocated to reopen school-based dental services in conjunction with the New York School Based Health Alliance and Community Healthcare Association of New York.
With these programs cleared to resume, the NYSDA said, critical dental care and screenings will once again be administered to children in grades pre-K through 12 who rely on these services and who have otherwise gone untreated or unscreened since March 2020.
School-based health centers (SBHCs) provide primary health, dental health, mental health, and counseling and chronic illness management without concern for the student’s ability to pay and in a location that meets students where they are, at school, the NYSDA said. SBHCs serve urban, suburban, and rural communities.
New York State provides funding, staffing, and support for more than 300 SBHCs statewide. Teledentistry filled the gap during the closure to address the needs of students and mitigate emergency department visits for oral health-related problems, the NYSDA said.
These SBHCs look different in each school across the state. Depending on the district and availability, many students are served with portable dental equipment or a mobile dental clinic that visits the school periodically. In others, there is a dental suite similar to a dental office built within the school.
Registered dental hygienists work in collaborative agreements with supervising dentists from sponsoring hospitals to provide preventive care and screenings in a variety of these settings. Students are then referred to dentists for restorative care.
“The residual effects of not meeting the oral health needs of children during the pandemic will have a lasting impact,” said Mark J. Feldman, DMD, NYSDA executive director. “We are thankful the New York State Department of Health has issued new guidance to allow school-based health centers to regularly see patients once again. NYSDA has always supported access to care for children and adults.”
According to a study published in the Journal of School Health, the NYSDA noted, two urban high schools in western New York found that students with access to an SBHC were significantly less likely to be sent home during the school day than those without access. The study concluded that SBHCs were able to increase student learning.