Seven-year-old Ramaya Glass goes to the dentist regularly and has the smile to prove it.
Some students at her school, Augusta Lewis Troup, don’t see a dentist. Yet. Starting this school year, they will have a chance at better oral health and having a smile like Ramaya’s.
New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Garth Harries and Mayor Toni Harp joined second-grader Ramaya and fourth-grader Jamelette Dixon Tuesday to cut the ribbon of the Smile New Haven! school-based dental clinic at Troup.
The clinic at Troup is one of five that opened this year with the help of CT Dental Associates of West Haven to provide preventive dental services; dental education for pre-K to 12th grade students; and to assist families with obtaining dental insurance and a dentist. The other clinics are based in the health centers of King-Robinson, Hill Central, Truman and Barnard schools. Open two days a week at the schools, enrolled students will have access to screenings, cleanings, fluoride treatments, sealants, X-rays and referrals.
Susan Peters, director of New Haven Public Schools school health centers, said that before the opening of the clinics, the school district was able to only provide services through a mobile dental van. Having onsite clinics, staffed with dental hygienists and an oral health specialists, means that students can be offered more services without having to miss school or inconveniencing a working parent.
Peters said this past June New Haven Public schools screened 484 Troup students, from kindergarten on up to grade 8, and found that 35 percent had moderate to severe dental needs. A 2012 report on the status of oral health in Connecticut also showed that dental decay continues to be a significant public health problem for children in the state, and many children in Connecticut just don’t get the care that they need.
“The need for dental care is very clear in Connecticut and New Haven,” Peters said at Troup Wednesday. “Tooth decay is the most common childhood disease. It is five times more common than asthma and its the leading reason for missed school across the state.”
Peters said the program doesn’t replace a family’s regular dentist, but offers additional support at no cost to parents to help keep children healthy, and in school. It also helps parents avoid lost time at work, while overcoming transportation and language barriers.
Mayor Harp said that anyone who has ever experienced a dental emergency or some chronic problem with their teeth or gums knows that there is a direct connection between good oral health and overall good general health.
“I whole heartedly embrace these efforts, in fact, the idea makes me smile because I know healthy students are in a better position to learn and prosper,” she said.
Harp highlighted three aspects of the initiative: “First and foremost it helps young people keep current with oral health. There is no way to over emphasize the need for regular preventative dental care and prompt attention to dental concerns especially among those who are uninsured, underinsured, or otherwise less inclined to make and keep an appointment with a dentist; the second is the convenience factor how it helps families address this vitally important concern, time off from school and work, transportation issues and cultural barriers are mitigated with these school based dental clinics. And the third thing how expanding services in New Haven in our school based health centers helps advance the idea that taking care of oneself must become a built in part of every day.”
“Every public health dollar invested in prevention and education is spent wisely,” Harp said. “In this new program, New Haven is investing wisely and well to improve access to dental care and I couldn’t be more proud.”
Superintendent Harries called access to dental health care crucial for students because dental problems are a gateway to other health problems.
“It is incredibly thrilling to me for us to be able to offer these kinds of services to our students,” he said.
And Ramaya’s tip for a good check up at the dentist? Don’t be afraid.
“There’s nothing to be scared about,” she said.