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Denver school for refugee students gets a dental clinic

Beginning on Friday, a Denver magnet school for refugee students will have its own in-house dental clinic.

Placebridge Academy’s new clinic, located in the school’s former health room, will be equipped and staffed by Colorado Total Smiles, a non-profit safety net dental clinic based in Aurora. To start, the school clinic will be open one day a month and offer preventive dental care to Placebridge students as well as school staff members, such as paraprofessionals.

The clinic represents a milestone for the six-year-old school, where 55 languages are spoken, 96 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals and about one-third have no health or dental insurance. The school enrolls 1,054 students in preschool through eighth grade.

“I am so excited,” said Principal Brenda Kazin, who began pursuing the clinic about three years ago after various organizations that provided occasional dental services at the school suggested the students there needed further care.

Melissa Guzman, executive director of Colorado Total Smiles, said some families at the school lived in ill-equipped refugee camps for years before coming to Denver and never received any kind of dental care. One family seen by clinic staff had no choice but to use sand for teeth-cleaning during its time in the camp.

All told, the contribution of equipment and staff from Colorado Total Smiles is equivalent to around $60,000 annually. If the clinic adds more days or services next year, that number could grow.

“The dental piece is a really tricky item in terms of healthcare,” said Scott Romero, a health specialist for Denver Public Schools. “There’s not a lot of funding out there for providers to give away services.”

Currently, Denver’s Morey Middle School also has a dental clinic for students, though it’s not well used, said Romero.

Two factors may help Placebridge’s clinic overcome that problem. First, Placebridge also features a state-of-the-art school-based health clinic that may have familiarized parents with the idea of getting health services at school. Second, by providing services to Placebridge employees, the dental clinic may create some trusted champions who can spread the word to parents and students in their native language.

Aside from the two school-based dental clinics, DPS also offers a dental sealant program for second- and sixth-graders with the help of two partners, Denver Health and Kids In Need of Dentistry, or KIND. The district also helps foot the bill for a small number of low-income students –less than 100 each year — who need major restorative dental work.

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