Star Community Health has named Tonya Cook, DMD, its first Chief Dental Officer. In this role, she will oversee dentists, dental residents and dental hygienists who provide care at Star Community Health's three dental clinics and aboard three mobile dental vans serving Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon, Schuylkill, Bucks and Monroe Counties.
As a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), Star Community Health provides area residents, especially the uninsured and underinsured, high-quality care. In addition to dental services, Star Community Health, which is affiliated with St. Luke’s University Health Network, also offers primary care, women's health services and pediatrics.
"The mission of federally qualified health centers warms my heart," she said. "We are the safety net for the entire community, and that means we can provide care to many people who otherwise would be marginalized and overlooked. So that is something to be very proud of."
Unlike many private dental practices, Star Community Health accepts Medicaid insurance. It offers a sliding scale payment plan that allows patients who are under- or un-insured or have high deductible plans to pay what they can afford based on their family size and income. Star Community Health clinics located in Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton are situated within walking distance for many low-income families, and where our mobile medical vans frequently make stops to help improve access to care for those lacking transportation.
"I've been here only a couple of months, and I already love the people I work with. We are connected by the desire to provide excellent health care for the communities we serve. And that is my personal mission. The patients come first. I like that everybody here at Star Community Health shares that mission. Everyone's so eager to jump in to ensure the patients get the best from our organization."
All clinics are well-equipped to perform a wide range of dental services. Dental professionals at the clinics, and on board the vans, clean and examine teeth, take x-rays, apply sealants, fill cavities, and perform restorative procedures. The clinic at the Sigal Center, across the street from St. Luke’s Sacred Heart Campus in Allentown, is a comprehensive care clinic providing a full range of procedures, including oral surgery, orthodontics and periodontics.
The operation of three mobile dental vans, allows Star Community Health to bring services directly to primary and secondary students in 40 schools across six counties, including Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon, Schuylkill, Bucks and Monroe. Each van is staffed with a hygienist and a dentist and sees about 20 patients per day who might not otherwise receive care. Star Community Health also works with school nurses and social workers to identify disadvantaged students and obtain parental permission. A capital campaign is currently underway to replace the mobile vans.
A graduate of the Medical School at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine, Dr. Cook has extensive experience working in federally qualified health centers in New Jersey. She was considering changing her career when she was contacted by Mark Roberts, Executive Director at SCH, with whom she had worked with previously.
In addition to working with Roberts again, she was especially drawn to Star Community Health for the opportunity to work with dental residents. They provide care in Star Community Health clinics under the guidance of Mohammed Qahash, MS, DDS, program director of St. Luke's Dental Medicine Residency, a comprehensive general practice residency program.
Dr. Cook stressed the importance of dental care to overall health. Good oral hygiene, regular check-ups and timely care can prevent the spread of bacteria and other germs to other parts of the body. Conversely, poor oral hygiene and dental health have been linked to health problems including heart disease, stroke and even cancer.
Patients without good dental care often develop painful tooth and gum problems that lead to the loss of teeth, and gum disease that can spread to other parts of the body. Often, such patients turn to their local emergency rooms (ER), where they can only be provided pain medications, rather than address the source of the problem. Star Community Health provides a vital alternative.
"If you have a big heart and want to provide care for people who desperately need it, then a federally qualified health center is the place for you," Dr. Cook said.
To make an appointment, contact Star Community Health Dental’s Allentown’s office at 610-776-4802, Bethlehem office at 484-526-2460 and Easton office at 484-503-8001. For more information about Star Community Health, visit starcommunityhealth.org. To learn more about the campaign to replace the dental vans, contact Kelly Chando at 484-619-1456 or Kelly.Chando@sluhn.org.