October is dental hygiene month. It’s a theme that will be celebrated in schools across the country, but in Hartford, this month represents something far greater and far more unique: an ongoing fifty-six-year commitment to the health of Hartford kids.

asian_studies_slider_8Since 1960, Hartford Public Schools has run a full-service dental clinic. It now reaches 17 Hartford Public Schools, via school-based clinics and a much loved mobile health van dubbed the Molar Express. Collectively, the clinics screen 11,000 students annually. For the 6,000 kids that opt into the program, they receive full treatments – ranging from tooth cleanings to cavity fillings – administered by a team of dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants.

Helping to coordinate the clinics are two tooth fairies: Jill Quast and Donna Patane. Ms. Quast, a Dental Hygienist Specialist, and Ms. Patane, a Dental Hygiene Liaison, are clinic fixtures. They both started their careers in Hartford fifteen years ago and have a friendship built on a shared commitment to helping others.

“Our bottom line is to keep kids healthy, keep them in school learning, and to provide quality dental care to the school children of Hartford,” surmises Ms. Quast. The emphasis on keeping kids in school is an integral differentiator of the school-based clinic. The commute time between classroom and clinic is never more than a couple minutes, and as a health provider, Ms. Quast deeply appreciates that colocation. “We’re trying to educate kids and families about dental health, so having a clinic in a school is pretty perfect.”

L-R: Jill Quast, Damion Morgan, Donna Patane

L-R: Jill Quast, Damion Morgan, Donna Patane

As the lead agency in overseeing programs at three schools, COMPASS Youth Collaborative interfaces frequently with clinic staff to help get the word out to families. “This is a great resource,” notes Damion Morgan, the COMPASS Director at Asian Studies Academy. “My mission is to help every parent realize that our school is a community school. And by community school, I mean that we are here to partner with families on a number of fronts – all with the goal of helping kids succeed.”

Ms. Quast agrees. She wishes more parents understood the program benefits and qualifications of the staff. “Once parents give us permission, we promise to care for these children,” she says passionately. “We have three full-time dentists, ten dental hygienists, four dental assistants, and two dental support personnel including our wonder woman, Donna. Collectively,” she adds with a laugh, “we have a few hundred years of experience – by myself, I’ve worked 44 years as a hygienist.”

Part of what Ms. Quast and Ms. Patane love about the job is the direct employment with Hartford Public Schools, and the scope of what they can provide. Services are always covered by either private or Husky insurance and include examinations, dental cleanings, fluoride treatments, preventative sealants, X-rays, fillings, root canals, extractions, stainless steel crowns, space maintainers, and nutrition and diet counseling. The clinics can also arrange referrals to outside providers for braces, tooth surgery, and complex root canals. They will see any child that is a resident of Hartford, and accept kids as young as three. The main thing, according to clinic staff, is that kids stay enrolled – switching throughout the year to outside providers can be complicated and preclude treatment at the school. “Insurance typically provides two cleanings a year,” explains Ms. Quast, “so we ask that parents keep their kids with us. That way, there is more consistency in care.”

Most of all, these tooth fairies of Hartford love the job because they love the children. “I love the hugs,” says Ms. Patane. “We love these kids, and we’re filling a need for them. There’s no better feeling.”

Parents/Guardians: For the English and Spanish dental enrollment form, click here.

For the list of clinics and contact information:

Asian Studies Academy at Bellizzi School: 860.986.2297

Betances Early Learning School: 860.695.2844

Bulkeley High School: 860.695.1023

Burns Latino Studies Academy: 860.695.2986

F.D. Wish School: 860.695.5606

Hartford Public High School: 860.695.1363

Thirman L. Milner School: 860.695.4415

Kinsella School for the Performing Arts: 860.695.4191

McDonough Expeditionary Learning School: 860.695.4266

MD Fox School: 860.695.7735

ML King School: 860.695.7735

Molar Express: 860.986.2297

Moylan Expeditionary Learning School: 860.695.4507

Parkville Community School: 860.695.4729

SAND School: 860.695.5056

Sara J. Rawson School:  860.986.2297

Maria Sanchez School: 860.695.4966

Simpson-Waverly School: 860.695.5165

West Middle School: 860.695.5492

By: Clare Timmis
Feature Photo Credit: Jill Quast, 2016 | Clare Timmis