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Dental Clinics Launch in Rockaway Schools to Improve Underserved Students’ Oral Health

Original article written for NYU Langone Health’s News Hub

Middle and elementary public school children in Queens now have access to high-quality dental care with the launch of four school-based clinics in underserved areas where many families have low incomes and have lacked access to quality dental care. The Family Health Centers at NYU Langone brought pediatric dental specialists to three new school-based clinics in the Rockaways back in October. A fourth Queens site in Corona opened earlier in 2022. Together, these in-school clinics mark the dental program’s first move into Queens.

“We’ll be working with kids who need convenient access to dental care right in their schools,” says Lynn Gargano, DDS, clinical director of the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone’s Dental School Health Program. “For many of these children, this will be their first and only opportunity for comprehensive dental care including preventive, restorative, and referrals for specialty care when indicated.”

For many parents of children in the program, taking time off work to bring a child to the dentist is a challenge, as is the potential cost of care. “Children with dental pain, or even mild discomfort, lose school time too,” adds Dr. Gargano. “They can’t focus or they miss class entirely.”

The new Rockaway clinics opened at MS 319, PS/IS 333, and PS/MS 43, serving close to 500 public school children through an estimated 1,500 visits in the 2022–23 school year, and this number is expected to grow annually. The Corona-based program at PS 19 will provide another 1,000 or more visits to students in the borough.

The clinics operate in schools from 8:00AM to 4:00PM, Monday through Friday, providing comprehensive care, including exams, X-rays, cleanings, fluoride treatment, dental sealants, restorative care (fillings), extractions, and emergency dental care.

Additionally, through screening events held earlier this year, the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone found more than a third of the 559 children they screened had clinical decay. Risk factors like poor nutrition and obesity contribute to children’s oral health status. An important goal of the program is to teach young children good habits to care for their teeth.

The clinics are run in collaboration with the New York City Department of Education. Funding for the new dental program comes via federal and philanthropic support, including a $1.3 million, 2-year grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation that sought to assist the especially high-need, high-risk population in Queens.

Another goal of the clinics’ Queens expansion is dental workforce development. It includes training opportunities for dental assistants from diverse and historically underrepresented communities.

The new in-school dental clinics are among 41 in-school dental programs within 48 school buildings citywide. They are part of the larger School Health Program—Family Health Centers at NYU Langone, which operates in 55 schools, providing children access to medical, vision care, and behavioral health services.

Staffed by licensed attending dentists, the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone dental clinics provide care to 25,000 elementary and middle students in all 5 boroughs who are uninsured or underinsured. Students pay no out-of-pocket fees for services.

“We are a resource for families striving for a better life and provide health education, referrals, and access,” says Larry K. McReynolds, executive director of the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone. “Oral health is often just a starting point for these children. We may see them first for dental care, and that can then lead us to other health issues that we will help address.”

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