School closures cutting access to dental care for poor students

School closures amid the pandemic may have a disproportionate effect on the oral health of low-income children, reports The New York Times.

Before the pandemic, Tiffany Foy and other dental hygienists visited schools in rural and urban areas of Oregon, treating thousands of children a year. Many children had cavities or painful abscesses, said Ms. Foy, who works at the nonprofit Advantage Dental. The hygienists haven't been back to school since the program was suspended in March.

Ms. Foy recalled one high school student who had numerous cavities, saying, "Her family didn't have gas to drive her to the dentist. It broke my heart."

Queensbury, N.Y.-based Hudson Headwaters Health Network treated 2,000 to 2,500 children annually since the program began nearly four years ago, said Piperlea Chico, dental hygienist and director of the school-based dental program. School visits were suspended in April, and though many schools in the region reopened this month, officials haven't given hygienists permission to return, Ms. Chico told NYT.

Hygienists examine students for cavities, provide fluoride treatments and apply sealants. Children also receive free toothbrushes and toothpaste and are taught proper dental care, said Myechia Minter-Jordan, MD, president and chief executive of DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement and Catalyst Institute, which serves about 70,000 children annually. Since the pandemic, the organization has been contacting school districts and state officials about alternative ways to provide care, including online checkups.

Children without access to dental services "haven't been able to learn because they were in pain or they were so embarrassed by their poor dentition that they would cover their faces," said Dr. Minter-Jordan. 

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