Over 1,000 patients received free dental care this weekend at the UConn School of Dental Medicine during the Connecticut Foundation for Dental Outreach’s 15th Connecticut Mission of Mercy Free Dental Clinic (CT MOM).
One hundred and sixty UConn School of Dental Medicine students, faculty, staff, and residents and 30 School of Medicine Urban Service Track students were part of a team of over 800 volunteers who helped set-up, facilitate, and administer free care over the weekend. Many UConn School of Dental Medicine alumni were also part of the major two-day public service event.
This was the first year that the UConn School of Dental Medicine hosted the clinic in its 15-year history.
A Shared Commitment to Care
In his remarks during the clinic’s opening ceremony on Saturday morning, Dr. Steven Lepowsky, dean of the School of Dental Medicine, said the response was “an immediate resounding yes” after the Connecticut Foundation for Dental Outreach approached UConn over a year ago asking to host the 2022 CT MOM clinic.
“We are exceptionally pleased to be able to partner with the Connecticut Foundation for Dental Outreach and serve as the host site for this year’s free dental clinic,” Lepowsky said. “We have had a long history supporting CT MOM as our faculty, students, residents, and staff have been volunteering with the organization since its inception. Hosting CT MOM at our Dental Care Center represents an exciting new chapter in this partnership.”
Dr. Robert Schreibman, the Chairman and Founder of the CT MOM Foundation agreed, saying “we are very happy to have this opportunity given to us by the UConn School of Dental Medicine to practice here and take care of the necessary needs of the dental patients here today.”
“We’ve seen thousands of patients and have done millions of dollars’ worth of care,” Schreibman noted of the clinic’s 15-year track record.
CT MOM provides free dental services for underserved and uninsured individuals who cannot afford the cost of care. The two-day clinic is first-come, first-served and provides a full range of dental services including exams, x-rays, cleanings, extractions, root canals, and more. The School of Dental Medicine’s Dental Care Center clinics provided 169 dental stations.
The clinic hit its capacity at 2:30 pm on Sunday afternoon.
“Providing critically important dental care to the citizens of the state of Connecticut is at the core of our school’s mission and vision and is a commitment that’s shared by the Connecticut Foundation for Dental Outreach,” Lepowsky said. “Good oral health is the key to good overall health, and we are all here to help improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities in need.”
Janel Simpson, Chief Administrative Officer at UConn Health, was instrumental in organizing the event on behalf of UConn Health. “Public service is the foundational mission of UConn Health and our dental and medical schools,” Simpson said. “Events like this is what UConn truly embodies.”
“Thank you to every single person involved in planning this heartwarming community service event, it truly takes a village!”
Volunteers Make it All Possible
Every year, volunteers from all over the state and region came together to help make the free dental clinic possible. This year was no different. From UConn students, residents, faculty, and staff to dentists in private practice to volunteers from the Connecticut National Guard and AmeriCorps—the free clinic was teeming with individuals committed to serving the public and making smiles brighter.
For the dentists, the Dental Care Center at UConn Health—a recently renovated, state of the art facility in the heart of central Connecticut, was an ideal venue to administer care.
Dr. Gary Toubman of Newington, Connecticut said the patients were going to get an exceptional care experience in UConn’s dental chairs.
“They are going to feel like they’re in a private practice setting—which is very humanizing,” Toubman said. “The doctors do a great job treating them as if they are their own patients.”
Dr. Elyse Sudhoff of Glastonbury noted the convenience of the clinic’s location. “Accessibility is a nice thing this year,” Sudhoff said. The location is easy for people to get to. It makes a big difference in terms of turnout.”
In previous years, CT MOM has taken place across the state, including New Haven, Danbury, Waterbury, Bridgeport, Middletown, and Tolland.
Carlos Cardenas Peralta, a fourth-year dental student at UConn, spent the weekend volunteering with oral surgery while also escorting patients who speak Portuguese and Spanish. According to Peralta, CT MOM is an incredibly valuable service opportunity for students.
This is Carlos’ fourth time volunteering with CT MOM.
“It’s definitely fulfilling and gives me a reminder of why I’m doing dentistry,” Peralta said. “I want to help the community, especially those who cannot go through private dentists because money is a barrier.”
Dr. Sarita Arteaga, associate dean for students at the UConn School of Dental Medicine, was thrilled with this year’s “tremendous” volunteer turnout.
“After a few years’ hiatus, we were blessed to provide care to patients needing dental treatment they could not afford,” Arteaga said.
A Real Service to the Community
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the full CT MOM clinic was put on hold for several years. The last full clinic, which took place in 2019, served over 600 patients, including 57 veterans.
Jack, a Vietnam veteran from Torrington, is one of the veterans who has been to several CT MOM dental clinics. This year, during Veterans’ Day weekend, Jack traveled to the clinic to get some filings taken care of.
“It’s a real service to the community,” Jack said.
The clinic is a convenient opportunity for many patients to catch up on long overdue care—ensuring that their oral health does not fall through the cracks.
Michelle from Farmington came to a clinic with a friend to address dental issues that have been put on the back burner. Michelle needed a filling fixed, while her friend needed an extraction. Satisfied with both the speed and quality of her care, Michelle said the procedure was “quick and easy—took only about 10 minutes.”
A patient from Plainville showed up to UConn Health at 2 AM on Saturday morning expecting long lines based on her previous experiences with CT MOM clinics. For the patient—who needed several procedures over both days, including an extraction, cleaning, x-ray, and filling—the convenience and quality care at no cost is worth it.
“You have to be an early bird sometimes for things you want,” the patient said. “This clinic is convenient for me, and I feel you get good care coming here. The volunteers here get you better care than your own private dentist. You get very good care at this event.”
The patient was one of the nearly 250 patients in line before the clinic opened at 8 AM on Saturday morning.
Elvis from Waterbury, came to the clinic in need of partial dentures. Elvis lined up with his wife at 7 AM hoping to secure a spot. After a volunteer dentist looked in his mouth during the initial screening, Elvis learned that he also needed a filling to help his tooth properly support the dentures.
“He learned that the filling was a priority,” Elvis’ wife said, “so now he’s also going to get a filling!”