Students at This School in Camden are Now Getting Free Dental Exams

ByGeorge Woolston

Read the full article at TAPintoCamden >

The empty room in the nurse’s office at KIPP Lanning Square School was once used for soccer ball storage and as a laundry area.

“There was so many things there, and this huge washer and dryer,” said Dr. Melba Patricia Bonelli. “I mean, huge. I was like, how much laundry does the nurse have to do around here?”

Now, every Thursday morning, Bonelli uses that room as a dentist’s office to clean KIPP students’ teeth.

In October, the school partnered with Bonelli and Gracious Smiles to provide free, comprehensive dental services to both insured and uninsured students in grades kindergarten through third, which has not only made life more convenient for parents like Nicquera Allen, but also improves her three children’s education.

“We have known for a long time that teaching and learning is really important,” said Ranjana Reddy, KIPP Lanning Square’s managing director of operations. “But that our kids and families need so many other services to be able to enter the classroom ready to learn, and dental care is definitely one of them.”

“I think the program is very convenient,” said Allen, who has children in first, second and third grades at KIPP Lanning Square. “So usually when I schedule their appointments, it was like weeks apart, or a few days a part. That’s an inconvenience for me because I work six days a week, and then I go to school. And it’s just me.”

Gracious Smiles and Bonelli use a mobile dental unit and a mobile chair that allows them to easily transform the storage room into a dental office.

According to Bonelli, once parents register for the program and provide the school with a their students health information and give written consent, the students are scheduled for an appointment within a couple of weeks

On the day of the appointment, Bonelli said the school will call the parent before to inform them that their child will receive dental care, and the after to let them know what services were provided, how the child did and what is the plan going forward.

“It’s more convenient for me to have them come to school, and then have the dentist call me and say ‘Hey, your daughter has an appointment today, do you confirm?’ And I say ok, and then I can go on about my day and continue working or accomplishing other goals in my life aside from having being right there at the dentist,” said Allen.

“The initial visit is for exams, and a cleaning, and we assess the child to figure out whether or not the child needs any type of restorative services, and then we put a restorative plan together,” said Bonelli, who added that they already have children scheduled for the six month check-ups.

So far, according to Bonelli, she has seen 175 to 200 children and the goal is to see more, eventually serving students all the way up through eighth grade.

Allen’s daughter second-grade daughter Sienna visited Bonelli this Thursday morning, said she liked visiting the dentist at school.

“I like getting my teeth cleaned,” said Sienna.

Gracious Smiles is based in Camden and provides comprehensive dental care to the children in preschool programs, youth in after school programs, elderly in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, veterans and their spouses and military reservists on bases in the New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware Regions.