UB’s Dental Hygiene Program Gives Back

The Fones School of Dental Hygiene’s Class of 2021

The University of Bridgeport’s Fones School of Dental Hygiene is giving back to the community once again.

Starting August 1, the Fones School’s “Senior Smiles” program offered dental care and dentistry services at no cost to local residents over 65 years old thanks to a grant awarded by Delta Dental of New Jersey for $50,000. This was an expansion of the reduced cost, top-quality dental hygiene services and oral examinations already accessible to the people of southeastern Connecticut. Many of the neediest patients are over retirement age and have fallen through the safety net of the health care system. “It’s so nice for us to be able to say, ‘right here’ when some patients ask where they can go for this sort of dental work,” says Marion Manski, RDH, M.S., Director of the Fones School. Dr. Jennifer Boyce, DMD, Dental Administrator has spearheaded this initiative and provided the dental care sorely needed in this population.

Putting the program into place during the COVID-19 pandemic took the cooperation of everyone from Director Manski on down. The first few patients helped them develop a smoother process and safer procedures before the UB students arrived. They adapted one of their stations for COVID protocols and for seniors with walkers or wheelchairs. “Everything changed in the dental clinics,” says Boyce. Students and teachers alike were fitted with face shields and body coverings, while the room was fogged with hypochlorous acid in between sessions to disinfect it.

During the autumn semester, the Senior Smiles program included 125 patient visits with $44,000 worth of free dental care to local seniors, including many dentures and partial plates.

“I was overwhelmed by the number of people in our area who have been going without dentures or partials for the last nine months,” says Boyce. Director Manski agrees. “The need of the senior population is extraordinary,” she says. “There are baby boomers and members of the greatest generation who need our help and we are happy to give it.”

That’s not all the program has given this fall. They donated a basket of dental items like Waterpik flossers, Oral B Power toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, and even Christmas ornaments and covid items such as wipes and tissues to this year’s Ronald McDonald House’s Festival of Trees of Hope, as part of a raffle to raise money. In addition to the donation, they collected boxes of floss, toothpaste, and children’s power toothbrushes to donate to the Ronald McDonald House for those in need. And the governor has just deemed that dental hygienists and dentists can administer a COVID-19 vaccine in state of Connecticut. “We are thrilled to be recognized in that way,” says Manski. “We plan to participate in the training certification as soon as we can.”

All this outreach to the community directly helped our Dental Hygiene students, too. Students assisted in the clinic and promoted the Senior Smiles program. They learned about total tooth care, and helped guide 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. Dr. Jennifer Boyce sees this as a necessary step, especially since many dentists and dental hygienists have left the workforce due to the pandemic. “The workforce is going to change as many smaller practices are swallowed up,” she says. “Our students will be needing different skills, adjusting to clinic flow and cutting-edge practices.”

This crisis will naturally increase demand for all dental staff, so it’s a great time to consider our Dental Hygiene programs at UB. “The profession is growing,” says Boyce. And the Fones School will be at the forefront as always, helping everyone from students to seniors to live their best life.