Service Trips Resume for School of Dental Medicine Students

Students in the Class of 2023 provided screenings and treatment to patients in clinics in Puerto Rico, Maine, and South Dakota.

Student volunteers in Puerto Rico, March 2022 (Dr. Sarita Arteaga photo)

After a two-year hiatus, students in the School of Dental Medicine participated in service trips all across the United States over the past several months.

From March through July, 30 students in the Class of 2023 provided screenings and treatment to patients in clinics in Puerto Rico, Maine, and South Dakota. These service trips, along with several international trips, occurred on a yearly basis prior to the COVID pandemic.

After a June 2021 pilot in the Maine towns of Houlton and Ellsworth—where 17 students volunteered with a Maine nonprofit—leaders in the School of Dental Medicine felt that the service trips within the United States were able to safely resume for this year.

“We are happy to get back into providing care to those in need, and love the opportunity to serve in many places across the United States so our students can give back,” said Dr. Sarita Arteaga, associate dean for students. “Our students were really excited to get back into it.”

Students volunteer at the St. Francis Mission Dental Clinic in Rosebud, South Dakota. (Dr. Sarita Arteaga photo)

The service trips kicked off with two trips to Puerto Rico. Five students delivered screenings and provided treatment to over 80 patients in March, and another five students were able to see over 125 patients in April.

“This service trip was the perfect way to see a new part of the world, connect with a different patient population, and become closer as peers,” said Addison Vitols, a student volunteer. “Our host family, Edgar and Wanda, welcomed us warmly by showing us around the beautiful island and supporting us each day in clinic. The church communities extended their prayers and made us feel so appreciated. I think all of us students will remember that week for both the dental and personal experiences.”

The students were accompanied by Dr. Ronald Albert and Dr. Nicole Mariano—both School of Dental Medicine alumni and volunteer instructors. Albert initially made the connection to the clinic in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria caused many dental providers to flee the island.

“Our students are hungry to work on these service trips,” said Albert. “Most have heard about them during their interview phase when applying to our school.  Getting these trips up and running is appreciated by our students.”

Student volunteers deliver care in rural Maine. (Kelly Jones photo)

Another area in the United States where UConn dental students have volunteered over the years is in rural Maine. In June, volunteer faculty Dr. David Fried lead 10 students to trips in Houlton and Ellsworth. The students screened over 75 patients and provided a variety of care, including sealants, cleanings and fillings. The service trip was made possible by a longstanding relationship with the Caring Hands of Maine Dental Clinic and combined efforts with the University of New England College of Dental Medicine, helping place volunteers in remote areas in Maine that lack dental care.

“These service trips are a unique opportunity for our students to begin altruistic caring of less fortunate patients,” said Fried. “We hope that we impart on them that not only are they receiving valuable training, but the care they are providing is incredibly important to the patients they meet.  Even the smallest procedure makes a difference in people lives. Many of our students continue to give back to their communities and return as mentors on future trips.”

In May and June, 10 students visited the St. Francis Mission Dental Clinic Lakota Reservation in Rosebud, South Dakota with Albert, alum Dr. Raquel Manley and adjunct professor Dr. Maryann Lehman. During the first trip in May, five students conducted over 150 treatments. In June, five more students delivered 373 treatments. UConn’s relationship with St. Francis Clinic started two years ago when Lehmann saw an advertisement on the American Dental Association’s website calling for dental volunteers.

The students didn’t have to travel far for service opportunities this summer. Several students joined second-year student Max Einbinder in volunteering at Greater Waterbury Interfaith-Ministries in July. The students screened over 40 people.

Students volunteer at the Greater Waterbury ​Interfaith Ministries, Inc., in Waterbury, Connecticut. (Max Einbinder photo)

“Unfortunately, not everyone in our local communities has easy access to dental care,” said Einbinder. “As dental students, providing free intra- and extra-oral exams to underserved populations is an opportunity to begin to address their needs and point them in the right direction to receive care.

“We are thankful for the support of UConn for providing us the opportunity to get involved in our local communities.”