The Connecticut Foundation for Dental Outreach will hold its 10th annual free dental clinic on Friday. In an announcement at City Hall on March 29, Mayor Toni Harp and CFDO Programs Director Josephine De Lucia Bicknell said the two-day event will be open to all on a first-come, first-served basis.
“Dental health is every bit as important as physiological and emotional health in terms of self-image and self-worth, especially for children and young people,” Harp said in her opening remarks. “I’m delighted New Haven will host this year’s two-day Mission of Mercy dental clinic to make free oral health care available to city residents.”
This year’s free clinic, which is also called the Connecticut Mission of Mercy Dental Clinic, begins promptly at 6 a.m. in the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven and runs for two days. Doors will open to an expected 2,000 patients — all of whom will meet with a medical professional at some point and undergo an initial evaluation to better target their dental needs. Once identified, dentists on site will perform the necessary services, which range from basic cleanings and oral health education to more complex procedures like extractions and root canal treatments, free of charge.
Robert Schreibman, CTMOM co-founder and CFDO chairman, stressed that one of the clinic’s main goals is to make dental care as accessible as possible to those who need it most. In service of that goal, Schreibman has emphasized that appointments, insurance or documentation are not necessary to receive treatment. In addition, there will be sign language interpreters as well as translators on hand to aid hearing-impaired patients and those who do not speak English.
“It’s not just about cleaning teeth,” Schreibman said. “It’s really about giving people back their self-confidence and self-esteem so they can go out and get a job; so they are not afraid to smile; so that kids with oral pain can go back to school. We’re in the business of helping people get back to normal life status.”
Initially inspired by the Kansas Mission of Mercy’s free dental clinic, Schreibman and his colleague, Michael Perl, were convinced that a program like this was necessary in Connecticut. Schreibman started building from the ground up, gathering six friends to help raise funds, form relationships with dental suppliers and recruit volunteers. In 2008, their efforts came to fruition: the inaugural clinic held in was Tolland, Connecticut.
Since then, the CFDO has grown and expanded, putting on eight full-scale clinics and one mini clinic all over the state and providing nearly $10 million worth of free dental care to 15,732 patients and counting. The event’s impact on communities in other cities in Connecticut such as Hartford, Middletown and Waterbury has been clear, said Brad Heim, CTMOM co-chair.
“One young lady was embarrassed by some damaged front teeth and did not interview well for employment opportunities,” he said. “We fixed her teeth so she could smile with confidence. The next year she returned as a volunteer, grateful that she found employment. Her experience changed her life.”
Though the CFDO plans to continue reaching out annually to a different city in the state, Schreibman has expressed interest in possibly hosting smaller-scale clinics more frequently to cover more ground. For now, however, he said he is happy with the clinic’s overall structure and looks forward to welcoming patients on Friday.
The CTMOM also works with organizations like the New Haven Men’s Shelter and Project Homeless to help provide oral health supplies and oral education to city residents.