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.
Since 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.”