Nearly a year into the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, school-based dental clinics across New York remain closed based on state guidance to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. This has left many low-income families unsure of where to turn for their children’s preventive and corrective dental care.
“Children who were in the middle of treatment when the COVID-19 lockdown occurred have been unable to continue their care due to these constraints,” says Lynn Gargano, DDS, board-certified pediatric dentist and director of dental school health at the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone. “Decay is progressing, and orthodontic needs are not being addressed in a timely manner, which will lead to more complex treatment when they are eventually seen.”
“Historically, school-based dental clinics provide dental care for families in underserved neighborhoods who otherwise have difficulty finding access to dentists,” says Larry K. McReynolds, executive director of the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone.
It’s estimated that 1 million Medicaid-enrolled children nationwide rely on schools to access basic preventive dental care. The School Health Program—Family Health Centers at NYU Langone operates 35 school-based dental clinics across the city, the majority of which are located in Brooklyn.
For thousands of local children, who are at a sensitive time in their dental development, it now has been a year or longer since their last dental appointment. If these children’s dental conditions are left untreated, there could be a lasting impact on their health.
“Students are already learning in a strained environment, and ongoing dental issues could be making it worse for low-income students to keep up with their peers,” says Sarah Murphy, executive director of the New York School-Based Health Alliance. “Until the school-based dental clinics are able to safely re-open, it’s important for community health centers, like the Family Health Center at NYU Langone, to find alternative ways to provide dental treatment and help prevent a cascade of negative outcomes.”
Addressing the Pediatric Dental Health Crisis
In an effort to provide continued dental care to patients of the closed school-based clinics, administrators at the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone have reached out to approximately 2,000 patients to schedule appointments at an alternative location. However, to date only approximately 300 patients have been seen.
In light of National Children’s Dental Health Month, Dr. Gargano urges caretakers to schedule a dental appointment at one of several convenient Family Health Centers at NYU Langone locations in Brooklyn. Some sites are open six days a week and have extended evening hours to make it easier for busy families to access care.
The centers also have implemented heightened safety protocols, offer video visits, and provide financial assistance for people who cannot pay for their medical care through a sliding scale fee discount program. Additionally, patients are connected to other important medical and support services available through the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone, like food, housing assistance, and emergency funding, based on personal need.
Deborah “DJ” Haffeman