School-based health clinics have become a community lifeline for many local families amid the coronavirus pandemic, but nearly a year after widespread shutdowns began, some school-based health services still remain unavailable.
While physical and mental health services have continued largely uninterrupted since the start of the pandemic, dental services have been suspended since April, according to Dr. Chris Kjolhede, co-director of Bassett’s school-based health centers program.
With additional requirements for personal protective equipment, sanitization and social distancing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowed elective dental care to resume in June, but the guidance for school-based health centers, limiting them to emergency and urgent care, remained unchanged, Carpenter said.
Preventative dental work is the most effective way of working toward long-term dental health, Carpenter said.
“We’re a safety-net program. We see all kids, regardless of their family’s insurance or their parents’ ability to pay,” she said. “Some of these kids have never seen a dentist. The problem was around long before COVID, and COVID obviously didn’t make it any better.”
Bassett was never officially instructed to close its school-based centers, Kjolhede said, but was unable to continue offering services when its host schools were closed by the state in the spring.
“We’re the primary care providers for many kids,” he said. “When schools closed, they had no access to health care.”
Without access to the regular dental services provided by a school-based clinic, those with dental aches and pains often end up in the emergency room, where the problem tooth is pulled and the patient sent home with antibiotics, Kjolhede said.
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