Saving Smiles, Improving Lives

June 29, 2015

RWBIn the rural eight-county region served by Bassett Healthcare Network, accessing dental care can be an enormous challenge for many families. That’s why Bassett added preventive oral health care, which is critical to good health later in life, to its school-based health program 15 years ago and later expanded those services to include restorative care in some schools. Last year, more than 2,000 students received preventive dental services and over 400 received treatment and restorative care – all at no out-of-pocket cost to patients.

The work to improve the health of children in this part of central New York has earned Bassett statewide recognition. Today, the Healthcare Association of New York State named the Bassett School-Based Health Oral Health Program the recipient of HANYS’ 2015 Community Health Improvement Award.

“It is reaffirming to have the work of the school-based health team recognized in this way,” said Dr. Chris Kjolhede, pediatrician and co-director of Bassett’s school-based health program. “We know that oral health is critical to overall physical well-being and that dental caries can have a significant impact on long-term health. In fact, recent studies have shown that the chronic inflammation of some dental problems may have long lasting negative effects on the cardiovascular system. So, we need to get to kids early. Over and above that, the psychological benefits of having healthy teeth are immeasurable. So, making access to care easy by putting dental care in the schools where children are just makes sense.”

According to a 2009-2010 health and wellness survey of households within Bassett’s service area, 44.8 percent of respondents reported that they did not have dental insurance for their children or that they had a difficult time finding a dentist to accept their insurance. Most parents also find it difficult to take time off from work to get their children to appointments, whether for medical or dental care.

“My husband and I have three children enrolled in the Sherburne-Earlville school-based health center,” said Jennifer Ashton, who also operates a home-based childcare center. It is so much easier to get them the care they need when it is provided in the school setting. They can go in first thing in the morning and see who they need to see, get taken care of and go on about their day; they’re missing less school and I’m missing less work.”

Bassett school-based health dental hygienist Elizabeth Bray observed, “Often times we identify kids who have cavities that need to be addressed; parents are so busy and overwhelmed by the day to day issues that come up, that dental care gets missed. The potential risk of ignoring these problems can lead to extreme pain and a serious infection that can put the child’s health at risk.”

Dr. Leah Carpenter, a dentist who sees students in the school setting and provides restorative treatment when needed, says most of what she treats is preventable, ““Getting to kids when they’re young is really important. We want to teach them habits that will keep their teeth healthy for the rest of their life. Another advantage of being in the school setting is that we’re treating kids in a place they’re familiar with; it’s less intimidating to come see us.”

Bassett’s School-Based Health Program

Bassett operates the largest rural school-based health program in New York State, with 19 successful school-based health centers in 14 districts in four counties: Otsego, Chenango, Delaware and Schoharie counties. These SBHCs ensure easy access to quality health care services, including primary medical, dental and mental health services, for students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. The program aims to mitigate the barriers to health care access of climate, geography, lack of insurance, and a host of socio-economic factors. A team of nurse practitioners, physician assistants, mental health care workers, physicians, and a dental hygienist, supported by licensed practical nurses and medical office assistants, provide care to students in the school setting. The program has previously been awarded the Outstanding Rural Health Program Award by the National Rural Health Association.

To learn more about services available throughout the Bassett Healthcare Network, visit Follow Bassett on Facebook and Twitter at and

Photo Caption: School-based health dental hygienist Elizabeth Bray, who coordinated the SBH oral health project, discusses proper tooth brushing techniques with a student at Laurens Central School.

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