School-based Dental Clinic Offers Services Where They Are Needed Most

November 05, 2001

Enrico Fermi School No. 17, home to the highest childhood poverty rate in the city of Rochester and the 12th highest nationwide, will offer dental services to everyone living within its reach, a service school officials say the community "desperately needs." A groundbreaking ceremony for a new dental center will be held at 11:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 5, at School No. 17, 158 Orchard St., Rochester.

Designed to serve the entire community, the Daisy Marquis Jones Foundation Outreach Dental Center will be open during and after school hours, offering five dental chairs, an X-ray machine, a full lab, and an operating room. At almost 4,000 square feet, it is similar in size to the medical center - the Orchard Street Community Health Center -

that opened on school grounds in 1999. It will serve as many as 5,000 people annually.

"This is the cornerstone in our effort to rebuild an entire community," says Ralph Spezio, principal of the elementary school. "The potential to significantly improve children's health, their school studies, and their long-term success is just astronomical."

The project is a partnership involving School No. 17 and the Rochester City School District, the University of Rochester Medical Center, Eastman Dental Center, Strong Health, and Unity Health System, which operates the on-site medical center. The Mary Mulligan Charitable Trust, the Fred and Floy Willmott Foundation, and the Daisy Marquis Jones Foundation also provided funding. The latter provided $350,000, more than half the project's cost.

Run by the Eastman Dental Center, the facility will be donated to the city school district and leased to the University of Rochester Medical Center for $1 annually. The staff will include two dentists from Eastman Dental Center, as well as a dental hygienist, two dental assistants, and a program coordinator.

"This is a big commitment by everyone involved, one that makes complete sense. It's the right thing to do for Rochester, for our children and their families," says Jay Stein, M.D., senior vice president and vice-provost for health affairs at the University of Rochester, and CEO of Strong Health. "We're taking dental care where it's most needed."

The prevalence and significance of cavities in children is often under-appreciated. Dental caries remains one of the most common diseases among 5- to 17-year-olds. Eighteen percent of children age 2-4, 52 percent of those 6-8, and 61 percent of 15-year-olds have experienced tooth decay. Dental and craniofacial diseases and disorders are among the most common health problems affecting children locally and across the country and they have substantial consequences. These include pain and suffering, problems associated with eating and speaking, and difficulty learning. It is estimated by the U.S. Surgeon General's office that dental problems cause children to miss more than 50 million hours of school time each year.

"To deal with these oral health issues, we need to improve our involvement in education, preventive care, and treatment in the communities most affected. The new dental clinic is a wonderful example of that," says Cyril Meyerowitz, DDS, director of Eastman Dental Center and chair of the Department of Dentistry. "This is an important event because it symbolizes our substantial commitment to the oral health care of children and the underserved. At the same time, we're making strides in our research to develop data aimed at reducing the oral health disparities in our urban and rural communities."

The new dental center at School No. 17 reflects the commitment of the University of Rochester Medical Center to make Rochester the healthiest community in America by 2020 through Project Believe. Last year, the initiative was announced at School No. 33, one of nearly three dozen Rochester city schools participating in a program designed to help children who have asthma receive preventative medications by working closely with the schools and their nurses. That study is ongoing, and physicians are encouraged.

In addition to the new dental center at School No. 17, the project will include space that will permit expansion of the existing medical center and provide three offices for continued growth of Project Believe. Thomas Pearson, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, will oversee this aspect of the Project Believe effort, which will be used to train doctors.

"The area surrounding School No. 17 is located within Rochester's poverty crescent, and has one of the highest poverty rates in the Rochester City School District," Spezio says. "In addition, the census tract surrounding the school has the highest rate of unemployment, public assistance, teen-age births, crime and infant mortality in the city. This project is happening at a crucial time. The neighborhood desperately needs it."

Although the Orchard Street Community Health Center is less than two years old, there is already anecdotal evidence that families are taking their health more seriously. Last summer, many parents put off getting their child's annual physical. This year, many more took the initiative to have their child examined earlier in the summer. "That's a wonderful sign," Spezio says. "People are being proactive about their care."

For Media Inquiries:
Karin Christensen
(585) 275-1311
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