The Peres Elementary Dental Clinic has come a long way from its modest start as a janitorial closet with a dentist chair. Twelve years, $500,000 and 412 square feet later, a new dual dentist chair clinic has emerged.
Following a major reconstruction, the 12-year-old clinic reopened on Friday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by Dr. Daniel Tanita, the dentist who will continue to maintain it. With brand new equipment, Dr. Tanita and the nine other volunteer dentists will now have the means to fix more problems – like cavities — in the office.
Before the clinic even existed, the district had applied for a federal Head Start Grant in 1997. Following a survey of the community, a dental clinic was determined to be a top priority, and in 2000, the volunteer-run clinic opened for the children of Peres Elementary.
It closed in 2007 following a hiring freeze that left the clinic without a clerk to perform the necessary administration work, only to open up again in 2009 when the position could be filled. It then closed again last spring for its latest upgrade.
It’s been an up-and-down time, but Tanita said he wouldn’t trade the experience for private practice. “I think it’s sometimes easy for a dentist in private practice to stay isolated,” said Tanita. “But when you’re practicing in a community for a long time, you can see there are needs outside of your office.”
Linda Townsend Bryson, who has taught at Peres Elementary School for the last two decades, said the ribbon-cutting ceremony was important enough for her to find a substitute teacher for that morning. Her family, including daughter Aralyn, has watched and supported the clinic since its inception in 2000.
“It was just a little old closet with Aralyn and her chair,” she said.
Aralyn Townsend began working in the tiny clinic when there wasn’t even enough room to store patient files. She said she remembers putting up pictures to make the space more inviting, but the services were limited and they only served 50-60 students.
Now, the school is seeing hundreds, and Aralyn Townsend’s younger sister Deja Bryson has carried on the tradition. As the new dental clerk, she performs all the scheduling duties of patents and dentists, and oversees the new computerized patient files.
The new clinic is bright and open, containing two fully equipped dental chairs, an X-ray machine, new computers, dental record keeping software, a reception desk, oxygen and nitrous systems and improved fire and security systems.
Currently the clinic is only open to Peres Elementary Students. Aralyn did say however, that students in special circumstances, with issues that need attention and have nowhere else to go, could obtain referrals.