Reframing the Crisis: Opportunities in School-Based Health Center Dental Services

By Molly Wu

Oral health support in school-based health centers is facing two main issues: funding and coverage. Oral health is unlike mental health or physical health. Less attention is given to oral health than other aspects of health because of the cost and popularity. As we all know, the cost of dental care is not always affordable, especially for students who come from families with high socioeconomic needs. According to the article School-Based Health Centers Facing Cuts Under Governor’s Proposed Budget, there were 96 school-based health centers in Connecticut impacted by the decline in state funding since 2014. Three of them eventually closed in 2016 due to lack of funding. Before these three centers were forced to closed completely, they looked for ways to stick with the schools and students until the last minute. But with the funding crisis, dental health services were the first to go due to the high costs and its relatively “low” significance to students.

State and other sources of funding carefully examine the needs of funding before distributing money to school-based health centers. Medical, behavioral and mental health services are usually the ones that have the greatest impact on students. As a result, these services generally receive more attention from the public, and therefore more funds from institutional sectors. Oral health services become a minority in this case, and we have a lot of room to improve the coverage of dental services in school-based health centers. There are more students with dental problems than we can think of due to the lack of education and service they receive. Their expressions of dental issues are not very clear and strong, which cause us to underestimate the importance of dental health service in school-based health centers.

Due to lack of funding, some school-based health centers might decide to skip dental services and put that residual funding into medical health, behavioral health and mental health services. However, the important part of dental health service is not about remedy, but rather prevention and education. It costs about $2001 per child for standard preventative services, such as general exams, cleanings, and x-rays. It might seem like a lot of money when you first see this amount, but compared to other treatments and procedures like fillings and extractions, it is much more affordable since these services cost at least three or four times less than special treatments.

When we talk about school-based dental care, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to provide the full scope of service like a dentist’s office. Offering students the appropriate and timely education and providing them with general check-ups are more important. This help can eliminate the gap between students and dentists’ offices and solve the problem from the origin. The impact will be more profound and meaningful in the long term.

1Average Cost Of Dental Exam And Cleaning | Kool Smiles. (n.d.). Retrieved from