By Gail Smallwood
Bringing dental health to the needy in North Philadelphia
According to a recent study released by the National Center for Health Statistics, the rate of dental cavities in children ages 2-19 years old has dropped from 50 percent in 2011-12 to 43 percent in 2015-16.
DR. JANINE MUSHENO DMD ’07, a dentist with the Stephen Klein Wellness Center in Northcentral Philadelphia, works every day to help bring that rate down even more. She is an employee of the Philadelphia-area Project HOME, a non-profit organization that serves the city’s low income and homeless populations at the Stephen Klein Wellness Center.
Dr. Musheno and her six colleagues provide most dental services such as examinations, cleanings, fillings, crowns, dentures and extractions, as well as outreach education about oral healthcare. While they serve clients of all ages, Dr. Musheno enjoys focusing on children; many of her adult patients are not aware of the importance of early pediatric dental care, so she encourages them to bring their children to the clinic for checkups.
“If you can prevent dental disease, that is easier than ever having to treat it, which is why we really try to target kids,” she says.
In August 2015 she helped open the dental clinic at the Wellness Center and began serving local clients, many of whom had never had regular dental services; she may work with as many as 20 patients a day. In December, 2018, Project HOME also opened a new Hub of Hope at SEPTA’s underground Suburban Station, and she works with clients there once or twice a week. The Hub of Hope serves homeless people exclusively, and more than 300 people come in each day for showers, laundry, snacks, shelter, emergency dental care, medical care and other services; all these services are free.
Dr. Musheno has been interested in community service since her days as a Sem student, and while in Temple University’s dental school she traveled to Costa Rica and Nicaragua on community service trips, assisting with dental procedures and doing research there.
“I always liked community service and I’m happy that I can now combine that with my career,” she says. “There is a great need for dental services in the United States, and to help people find integrated health care. Many people don’t understand how oral health is connected to general health care. We take a lot of time to teach our clients how dental and medical care can work together.”
She has many stories of clients who had lived for years with dental problems, such as the woman who had needed a tooth extracted for 10 years but had never been able to afford to see a dentist. Another client, a mother with three young children, had been homeless and had shuttled from one shelter to another for months; she was so relieved to find the Klein Wellness Center and Dr. Musheno, who examined her children’s teeth and found they were in good health—no cavities!
“Life can be very hard for so many people,” she says. “The population we treat have lived through tough times for most of their lives. By treating the underserved, you learn a lot about yourself and a lot about others. There is a great need out there and we can’t always rely on others to fill that need.”