LAFAYETTE — By October, St. Martin Parish public school students will have access to dental services on their campuses through a partnership between the school system and a local health center.
A mobile dental clinic staffed with a dentist and two dental assistants was made possible through a federal grant received by the district and Iberia Comprehensive Community Health Center, said Jody West, coordinator of the St. Martin Parish school system’s school-based health center.
“There really is a need. We have a lot of students who have never been to the dentist before,” West said.
The school system has school-based health centers in Breaux Bridge, St. Martinville and Cecilia that provide medical and behavioral health services to students, who are transported by bus to the site, West said.
The centers act as a safety net for students who may not have access to care and also enables students to receive care and return to class, she said.
Last school year, 70 school-based health centers were operational on campuses in Louisiana, according to information from the Louisiana Office of Public Health’s Adolescent School Health Program website.
While the school-based health centers provide primary care and behavioral health services, fewer are able to provide dental care. West said St. Martin Parish is the first in the Acadiana region to offer school-based dental care to students.
The project is funded by a $462,000 federal grant that also enabled the Iberia Comprehensive Community Health Center to build a pediatric behavioral health building on its St. Martinville health center site, said Roderick Campbell, chief executive officer of the federally qualified health center.
The center offers medical, behavioral and dental services, which are also offered on a sliding fee scale based on income, if the patient is uninsured, Campbell said.
The budget for both projects was about $650,000 and it is designed to improve access to health services to St. Martin Parish students, Campbell said.
Both health centers have the same mission “of wanting to make sure that every child in the parish has access to health care, including dental, medical and behavioral health,” Campbell said.
“The St. Martin Parish school system has a wonderful school-based medical clinic and they do some behavioral health,” he said. “They didn’t have the dental component.”
While the services provided by the school-based health center are available to any St. Martin Parish student, only one school, Breaux Bridge Primary, received dental services through a Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals dental screening program, West said. That program targets first- through third-graders and provides screenings and dental sealants, she said.
The mobile dental services is a preventative measure to “divert disasters or other issues where students would need to miss school and need further care,” West said, adding that the services will be available to school system staff.
Any major dental need, such as extractions, would be referred to students’ primary dental provider, or if they don’t have one, the St. Martinville federally qualified health center has a dentist on site, West said.
The grant ends next year, Campbell said, but his center is committed to continuing the partnership. “What we’re hoping is that the service will be able to sustain itself,” he said.