CEA partnered with the Connecticut Foundation for Dental Outreach this year to get the message out about a no-cost clinic at Torrington High School April 20-21. Now in its 12th year, the Connecticut Mission of Mercy (CTMOM) clinic provides free dental care to those who are underserved or uninsured.
Julie Eagan, who came with her 15-year-old son, Jonathan, learned about the clinic through flyers posted at Torrington Middle School. CEA distributed hundreds of flyers to teachers and schools administrators in the hopes that families in need of services would know that there are no-cost options available. The CTMOM free dental clinic offers people of all ages a wide range of oral healthcare, including cleanings, fillings, extractions, X-rays, fluoride treatments, sealants, root canals, limited partial dentures, and general health screenings.
“The cost of dental care leaves many unable to afford it,” said Torrington Education Association President Mary Juliano. “The dental clinic provides an invaluable charitable service to the residents of Connecticut, especially those in the northwest corner. To be able to come to Torrington High School and receive a dental cleaning free of charge is wonderful, and it is my hope that many adults and children will take advantage of the opportunity.”
Miles of smiles
Indeed, many did. In a line that wrapped around the building, hundreds lined up outside the school in the cold, dark hours of the morning, and by the time the doors opened at 8 a.m., the clinic had reached its full capacity for the day. Organizers expect to treat 800 people between Friday and Saturday, and a special area is set up just for pediatric care.
“We have a diverse community in Torrington, and many of our families have economic needs,” Torrington High School English teacher Erin Sullivan explained. “A clinic such as this provides quality care regardless of need, allowing families with limited or no dental insurance the opportunity to stay in better health. Torrington teachers have distributed flyers to all students as a way of communicating the clinic to families.”
Personal identification, documentation, and insurance are not required in order to participate, and the clinic is open to anyone. Families came from as far as Bridgeport, Danbury, and New London County.
The mother of a nine-year-old girl from Old Lyme explained that the cost of a filling for her daughter— $500— was out of the family’s reach.
Dr. Bahar Houshmand and Dr. Archana Karanki, both Torrington pediatric dentists volunteering their services this weekend, said that getting the word out to students, through their teachers, is important because many children have untreated cavities—decaying teeth that can easily be restored before they result in abscesses, trips to the emergency room, painful extractions, and bad memories associated with dental care.
Dr. Norma Gomez, of Branford, added that parents may not know their children have a dental issue. “By coming here, they have the benefit of an exam, a restorative filling if needed, and free treatment from experienced dentists.”
Teachers lend a hand
Josephine Bicknell, director of programs and CTMOM clinic director, says teachers are among the thousands of volunteers who help make the annual clinic run smoothly. (Clinics are set up in different Connecticut locations each year.)
“One of our volunteers is a teacher, recently retired, who has been with us since 2009,” Bicknell says. “She started because she was so concerned about her students and wanted to get them good oral healthcare that their families couldn’t afford. She was so grateful that we came to her community, and from that point on, she said she needed to be a part of the effort. This year, in Torrington, she helped set up the clinic.”
Other volunteers serve as foreign-language translators, sign language interpreters, parking attendants, or patient escorts, and many help with patient registration, data entry, crowd control, food service, or tear-down.
In all, a typical CTMOM clinic draws in more than 1,000 patients and nearly as many volunteers and provides more than $1 million in dental services over a two-day span.
The Torrington clinic continues tomorrow at 8 a.m.