Serving Up Senior Smiles

Two UB Clinics dentists work on a patient

The Fones School of Dental Hygiene at the University of Bridgeport is expanding its program once again. In February, Jennifer Boyce, DMD. became the first full-time dentist on staff at Fones. “I love it here and I love the people,” she says of her new home. Now, through the Senior Smiles program, she and the rest of the school are offering expanded dental care to people over 65 years old.

For decades, the Fones School of Dental Hygiene has provided low-cost, top-quality cleaning services, offering oral examinations, teeth cleaning, sealants, radiographs, and fluoride treatments to the people of southeastern Connecticut. But, as Boyce says, the patients “are often looking to come here for more than dental hygiene.” They need a fuller range of dentistry services.

Many of the neediest patients are over retirement age and have fallen through the cracks of the healthcare system. “When seniors retire, they lose their dental insurance, thus we have a high population of geriatric patients in our clinic with age-related conditions such as coronal and root decay, receding gums, and unaddressed tooth loss,” says Marion Manski, RDH, M.S., director of the Fones School. With this in mind, the clinic chose to help this vulnerable population when applying for a grant from Delta Dental Foundation of New Jersey, the country’s largest dental plan administrator.

The clinic was awarded $50,000 from Delta Dental to establish the Senior Smiles program, in which low-income patients over 65 will receive free basic dental care beyond a cleaning, such as fillings, extractions, or dentures and partial plates. Fones already boasts a 30-chair facility, but needed extra equipment, such as drills, extraction tools, and infection control items. They received additional support from other companies, like Centrix in nearby Shelton, which donated $5,000 worth of materials.

“This is a game changer,” Boyce says. “For the first time we’re offering more than hygiene.”

The founder of the world’s first dental hygiene school, Dr. Alfred Fones, encouraged a city-wide hygiene program that kept Bridgeport safer than any other American city during the flu pandemic of 1918. And now in 2020, the Fones School is rising to the challenge of another pandemic, “following the most stringent interpretation of the current guidelines.” Students and teachers alike are fitted with face shields and body coverings, while the room is fogged with hypochlorous acid in between sessions to disinfect.

Due to this groundbreaking program, dental hygiene students at UB will learn more about total tooth care and will get to see more procedures performed. Most importantly of all, they will get a more complete experience, guiding patients from assessment to treatment. In the future, the Fones School plans to expand the program further, and potentially add a dental therapy component to the master’s degree curriculum.

But the real beneficiaries of the school’s programs are the people of southeastern Connecticut. “Our hope is to continue to offer basic care at a reasonable fee,” she says. “That’s our goal.” The first day treating patients was August 4, and schedules are filling up fast. “Patients have been calling since we shut down,” Boyce says. “People need us.” 

Treatment is by appointment only: seniorsmilesub@bridgeport.edu, (203) 576-4137, or visit bridgeport.edu/fones