WEBSTER — “Natalia never had anyone touch her teeth before,” said Juan Espino, whose daughter, Natalia Espino, first enrolled in dental services at the Park Avenue Elementary School in Webster when she began kindergarten in the fall of 2017. “It’s hard to get kids to go to the dentist, but if you start at the school where they already are, then it’s much easier,” said Mr. Espino.Through their participation in the Central Massachusetts Oral Health Initiative in the early 2000s, Janet Scheffler, Executive Director of the United Way of Webster and Dudley, and the late Judith Ruskin, a former principal at Webster Middle School, cham-pioned access to oral health services in Webster. Ms. Ruskin and Ms. Scheffler drew attention to the fact that the town of Webster was being disproportionately affected by the oral health crisis due to the lack of fluoridated residen-tial water throughout town, a critical shortage of dental pro-fessionals in South Worcester County, and the changes to dental health benefits covered by MassHealth,In 2004, as a result of her advocacy efforts, Ms. Scheffler secured foundation funding to bring dental professionals from Family Health Center of Worcester – the closest commu-nity health center to Webster – to provide onsite dental screenings for children at the Webster Public Schools during the school day. At the time, the screenings were conducted on the stage inside the school cafeteria.The success of the dental screening program led to the opening of the Judith Ruskin Oral Health Clinic at Webster Middle School in 2007 – the first school-based dental clinic in Central Massachusetts. The clinic was named after the late principal. Today, the clinic serves students from both Webster Middle School and Park Avenue Elementary School and is operated by Family Health Center of Worcester (FHCW) with funding support provided by the United Way of Webster and Dudley. Since its inception, dental professionals have provided oral health ser-vices for more than 2,500 chil-dren in the Judith Ruskin Oral Health Clinic.FHCW has experience bring-ing medical and dental care to children where they spend a lot of their time – in the school – through this program and at its seven School-based Health Centers in the Worcester Public Schools. The delivery of dental care in the schools has been proven to reduce absenteeism and improve oral hygiene and health education, particularly among low income families.FHCW dentist Dr. Sruthi Krishnan and dental hygien-ists work collaboratively with the Webster Public Schools, which facilitates student access to care through distributions of parent enrollment forms and scheduling appointments at the two schools.With parental permission, students enroll in care and receive preventive dental ser-vices including oral health edu-cation, cleanings and prophy-lactic treatments, sealants, as well as diagnostic and restor-ative services at the Judith Ruskin Oral Health Clinic. For many students this is their first experience seeing a dentist.Children with extensive oral health needs are referred to FHCW’s main site in Worcester for follow-up care. Natalia Espino was one such student.“The continuity of being able to see the same dentist made all the difference,” said Mr. Espino. “Natalia already had a great experience at the school with Dr. Krishnan. She was comfortable visiting her for another appointment in Worcester and felt comfort-able because she saw a familiar face.” During the 2017-2018 school year, Family Health Center of Worcester provid-ed oral health care to 48 children at Park Avenue Elementary School and Webster Middle School. Staff conducted a total of 372 dental procedures during 108 dental vis-its.“Our United Way is thrilled to have the Family Health Center’s dental professionals as a funded partner providing essential oral health care services to the children of our community. Thanks to our dedicated donors services like these are available to families who need them most,” noted Ms.Scheffler. The Family Health Center is one of the 15 funded partners of the United Way of Webster Dudley’s annual appeal. To learn more, contact Ms. Scheffler at the United Way 508-943-7500.
The Webster Times