When school closed suddenly in March, Boston students not only lost the daily connection to teachers and learning, but dental services that the city’s most vulnerable children depend on for critical care.
That has left nearly 4,000 Boston public school students without an opportunity to see a dentist or hygienist in school this academic year, practitioners say, a significant concern given the strong correlation between poor oral health and learning loss and the risk of chronic illnesses.
“I’m worried that there’s going to be dental consequences that may not be reversible . . . and that complications with gum disease can lead to lifelong consequences,” said Farah Faldonie, school nurse at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Chinatown, where the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine has a clinic on the third floor.
In recent decades, schools across the city and country have helped establish a public health safety net for the most vulnerable students, partnering with eye doctors, dentists, and physical therapists to provide essential services to students during the school day.
Boston school officials, in a statement, said a limited number of organizations ― such as those providing physical and mental health supports to students ― are allowed inside the schools for now. But other groups, including dental programs, have been asked to find alternative ways to provide services, while the district explores “creative ways to provide in-person services” to students and families.
Poor oral health has a direct connection to learning loss and high risk for chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression, research shows. The most vulnerable are Black, Hispanic, and low-income students who don’t have a family dentist.
If students lose access to dental care, it will only lead to further health and education disparities, said Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, chief executive of DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement and Catalyst Institute, which operates and supports such in-school dental programs across the country.