Important State-Run Program Reopens to Provide Dental Health to Children in Underserved Communities

ALBANY, N.Y., March 24, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- After a mandated shutdown imposed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the New York State Dental Association successfully advocated, in conjunction with New York School Based Health Alliance and Community Healthcare Association of New York, to reopen school-based health dental services in school settings. With these programs cleared to resume, 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 (SBHC) 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.  SBHCs serve urban, suburban and rural communities.   

New York State provides funding, staffing and support for over 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.

These SBHCs look different in each school across the state. Depending on the district and availability, many students are served by way of portable dental equipment or a mobile dental clinic that visits the school site periodically. In other instances, 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 preventative 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, executive director, New York State Dental Association. "We are thankful the NYSDOH 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 by the Journal of School Health, 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 who did not have access. The study concluded that SBHCs were able to increase student learning, also called "seat time."