A dental care program that Rochester Memorial School Nurse Ellen Murphy proposed to the Rochester School Committee last month was approved on February 15.
Beginning this year, RMS students will be offered dental care by Mass Smiles, a program that will visit the school every six months and provide dental care such as screenings, cleanings, sealants, fillings, and fluoride treatments to students whose parents enroll their child into the program. Dental work would be given during school hours and scheduled around specialist classes to avoid critical time blocks like ELA and math.
During its last meeting, the committee had some questions for Murphy, who contacted other Massachusetts schools that participate in the Mass Smiles program. All the feedback, she said, was favorable.
Murphy last month said Mass Smiles first contacted RMS due to an increase in free or reduced lunch participation. The target student population at RMS are students enrolled in the Medicare or Medicaid who would receive the dental care for free, but students with private insurance – or no insurance – are welcome to participate as well.
“There is a high percentage of kids in the state with Medicaid who aren’t seeing the dentist at all,” said Murphy. “[The program] is not looking for private insurance or people to change dentists,” she added, “it’s more for those who aren’t getting dental care.”
The program is a for-profit organization, Murphy said, servicing 19 states and 500,000 children, but she emphasized that if there are any balances due to treatment costs or co-payments, at the end of the month any balances are wiped clean.
“If they get paid, great,” said Murphy. “If they don’t, it’s (the balance) gone.”
Murphy spoke with the school nurse of one of the Wareham schools participating in the program servicing roughly 500 students, saying, “She couldn’t say enough about this program.”
“She had one little boy with serious decay into his roots,” said Murphy. “The [Mass Smiles] dentist treating him … called in a prescription for antibiotics … and followed up with his family.”
Murphy said the Department of Public Health also runs a similar program, “But all they do is cleanings,” Murphy said. “They don’t do sealants. They don’t do fillings.”
The typical time a student will spend with the dentist would be 15 to 25 minutes, Murphy told the committee.
“The aim of the program is to keep kids in school,” said Murphy. “Nationally, fifty-five million hours of school are missed as a result of dental concerns.”
Tooth decay is five times more common than asthma in children, Murphy stated. According to the Center for Disease Control, Murphy said dental sealants prevent 80% of cavities for two years and 50% of cavities for up to four years. Children without sealants have three times more cavities than those with sealants, she added.
Last month, School Committee member Sharon Hartley asked if the program could service children after school, but during this meeting Murphy told her that the program could not accommodate that request.
RMS Principal Derek Medeiros voiced his support for the program.
“As a school, we always worry we’re not impeding too much on parents … but this is just offering the program to anyone who wants to take it,” said Medeiros. The goal is to offer the program and see if there is any interest over the next three or so months.
“It’s worth a discussion I thought, especially with the data that Ellen presented,” Medeiros said. “There’s no obligation up front. It’s just, hey, we have this if you’re interested…”
Murphy emphasized that there is no cost or liability to the school.
“It sounds like it’s worth giving it a try,” said Hartley. “I am a little concerned about the time just because it’s so tricky these days to get everything in that we have to get in.”
Medeiros replied, “We have the structure in place for all the screenings that Ellen does already… We have the experience from that lens.” Medeiros continued.
The committee approved the Mass Smiles program and requested that Murphy return at the end of the year for a follow-up on the program’s progress.
The next meeting of the Rochester School Committee is scheduled for March 29 at 6:30 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.
Rochester School Committee
By Jean Perry