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"School Closures Cut a Critical Line to Dental Care for Poor Students"

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

Original article written by Maria Cramer for the New York Times

Amid school closures and the suspension of regular dental health visits in schools, many low-income students and those in rural areas have been unable to receive dental care. The lack of access to dental care can have devastating effects on young people's health and academic performance as is well documented in literature. Piperlea Chico, a dental hygienist and director of the school-based dental program at Hudson Headwaters Health Network in New York, indicates that though many schools in New York reopened this month, state health officials have not given hygienists permission to return to treating students in-person. “We’re somewhat at a standstill,” she said. “It’s really an essential service. We identify a lot of needs for these children, and we help provide a lot of help and prevent a lot of disease.” In a typical school year, dental hygensists examine students in classrooms, gyms or nurses’ offices, where they perform check-ups and provide protective treatments as well as educate students on proper dental hygeine practices. Oral health specialists are concerned by their inability to return to schools, and have been working to find other ways to get care to children, including outdoor clinics, mobile vans and online checkups. Without this care, children can be in an incredible amount of pain, and hygienists have discovered painful dental problems that prevented students from learning or even eating and sleeping. At the moment tt is not clear exactly how many children will experience deteriorating oral health due to school closures, Chad Meyerhoefer says, a professor of economics at Lehigh University. But low-income students without adequete insurance or money to visit a private dentist as well as students in rural areas, where fluoride is often not added to the water, could be hit the hardest.

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