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Affordable Dental Care Brings Smiles

by Heidi Butler; photos by Betsy Toole
January 28, 2013

l-r:  Frank Ford, president of St. Luke's Allentown Campus; Dr. Bonnie Coyle, director of community health at St. Luke's University Health Network; Dr. Mohammed O. Qahash, director of the dental program at St. Luke's Dental Residency Program; Carolyn Bortz, dean of allied health & sciences at Northampton Community College;  Dr. Mark Erickson, president of NCC; John Callahan, mayor of Bethlehem.  Dental hygiene students from NCC are holding the "floss."Despite a winter weather advisory , the lounge on the third floor of Northampton Community College's Fowler Family Center was more crowded than a mouth requiring dental intervention.

More than 100 people braved the scary forecast to celebrate the opening of a new dental center that will provide low cost care to thousands of area residents who do not have access to dental health services.

In 20 immaculate stations staffed by dental hygiene students from Northampton Community College (NCC), patients can have their teeth cleaned and scaled, obtain sealants and fluoride treatments, and get screened for blood pressure, oral cancer, tooth decay and gum disease for $25 per visit.

If more extensive care is needed including fillings, dentures, crowns veneers, implants, root canals, extractions or therapies for teeth grinding, snoring and sleep apnea, dental residents from St. Luke's University Health Network will be there to provide it. "This is truly a win, win, win situation," proclaimed NCC's president, Dr. Mark Erickson, highlighting many ways in which patients, students and the community will benefit.

"Look how far we have come," exclaimed Dr. Bonnie Coyle, the director of community health at St. Luke's. When the first community health assessment identified dental health as the #1 priority back in the mid 1990s,,Coyle and Terry Sigal-Greene, then director of NCC's dental hygiene program, came up with the idea of bringing children from two Bethlehem elementary schools to NCC for sealants to prevent decay.

At the urging of Iris Cintron in the Bethlehem Area School District, the program was expanded into "marathon days" when 40-50 children a day received care from NCC's dental hygiene students.Mohammed Qahash, Dr. Arnold Cook, and Sherri Meyers

In 1998 an anonymous donor helped St. Luke's purchase a van to bring dental service to the schools. Since then St. Luke's has opened clinics in Bethlehem and Easton and added a dental residency program as part of its commitment to dental health.

"It has been a journey," said Frank Ford, the president of St. Luke's Allentown Campus, "and this is a milestone."

The dental facilities at the Fowler Center bring services previously provided at NCC's clinic in Bethlehem Township and St. Luke's Union Station together under one roof in a location easily accessible by public transportation.

The new center will "provide a virtually seamless dental health care experience for patients," explained Carolyn Bortz, dean of allied health at NCC, noting that the learning environment for the dental hygiene students and dental residents will "align with models seen in major dental schools and dental hygiene schools across the country."

All of the speakers mentioned the many advocates and donors who have pitched in to address the need for dental care for underserved populations in the Lehigh Valley, including the Bethlehem Partnership for a Healthy Community, Bethlehem Rotary, Capital BlueCross, Dr. Arnold Cook, Beall and Linny Fowler, Judy Gelinas, Kathy Halkins, Just Born, Kostas Kalageropoulos, Laros Foundation and the Lehigh Valley Coalition for Kids.

Dr. Cook, who rallied dentists to raise money to start a dental hygiene program at NCC in 1969, called the new clinic "amazing" and the people involved "phenomenal."

Speaking on behalf of Capital BlueCross, a major contributor to the new clinic, Anne Baum said she finds it "astounding" that dental caries is the single most common chronic childhood disease and that more than 51 million school hours are lost each year to dental-related illness. Calling the dental center a "win, win, win, win a million times over" project, she said, "We are pleased to be a part of it.

Also on hand for the ribbon cutting (or in this case, the ribbon flossing) was Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, who offered thanks on behalf of the citizens of Bethlehem.

Nearby in the cheery waiting room, Margie Lawrence had arrived a full hour early for her afternoon appointment. Lawrence had been getting her teeth cleaned at the old clinic on NCC's Main Campus for two or three years and was eager to see the new facilities.

"More people should know about this," she said. "Good care is hard to come by when you don't have much money. The hygienists here go above and beyond what a hygienist would do in any other place. It's not just 10 minutes, and you're out. You get a very thorough check-up."

Lawrence likes the fact that she's helping students gain experience. "They care about doing a good job," she says.

See these Morning Call links for more photos and a video of the event.


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