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School-Based Clinics Help Kids Access Dental Care

The New Haven Public Schools district in Connecticut is addressing access-to-care issues by bringing dental services to children’s classrooms.

The New Haven Public Schools district in Connecticut is addressing access-to-care issues by bringing dental services to children’s classrooms. Students enrolled in the New Haven Public Schools’ Smile New Haven program can receive affordable dental services on their school campus in school-based health centers. The idea to add dental care to the district’s suite of services—medical and mental health—began 4 years ago when Sue Peters, APRN, MPH, director of School Health Centers at New Haven Public Schools, realized students’ need for dental services while working as a nurse practitioner. She would refer students to dentists for oral abscesses, caries, and other problems. “I would see them at the tail end when they would have to be treated, and the decay and lack of care I saw were astonishing,” she says.

Tracey Oberg, RDH, BDS
Tracey Oberg, RDH, BDS, in the dental suite at Barnard School in New Haven,

Peters toured one of the 27 Hartford Public School’s Dental Program Clinics to learn more about the services offered. In 2014, the first New Haven Public Schools Dental Clinic was established in the district’s school health centers. There are currently 17 health centers, with nine offering oral health services.

On-site care allows both students and parents to form a trusted relationship with oral health professionals. It also helps the district address chronic absenteeism. “With health issues being a leading reason why kids miss school, it makes sense that our health care team would become involved in helping to reduce these absences,” says Peters.

The district has seen a drop in chronic absenteeism. The Connecticut State Department of Education reports that of the district’s 21,981 students, 18.3% were chronically absent during the 2016–2017 school year—a drop from 19.9% in 2015–2016.

“We have definitely made a huge difference,” says Tracey Oberg, RDH, BDS, lead dental hygienist at New Haven Public Schools. “Some of these kids had never had a toothbrush before and many students were not receiving any treatment. Now, they are using our services, getting referred, and going outside the school to continue treatment.”

Once parents submit a dental permission form, Oberg and Elicia Lupoli, RDH, deliver a range of preventive services, including prophylaxis, sealants, X-rays, oral health education, and fluoride treatments during a 15-minute to 20-minute visit to ensure class time is not disrupted. Pre-K through 8th grade students also receive dental screenings, which enable clinicians to target students who present with infections and other oral health problems.

Once an X-ray is taken and entered into the system, Richard Delvecchio, DDS, the program’s dental director, interprets the radiographs remotely and enters individualized treatment plans into the system. Officials estimate the program has provided 3,000 prophylaxis appointments, 1,210 sealant treatments, and 2,080 screenings.


From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. January 2019;17(1):10.

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