Dental 'care-a van' to make stops at schools this year

By Frances Taylor - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Fri., Aug. 19, 2011
The 'care-a-van'' brings portable a portable dental office to schools and provides dental care to students.
The 'care-a-van'' brings portable a portable dental office to schools and provides dental care to students.

A colorful new van will be making the rounds of East Hartford public schools for the first time this year, thanks to a program that will provide preventative and restorative dental care to students. The “care-a-van,'' operated by Integrated Health Systems, carries a portable dental office that includes a dentist chair, lighting, medication and equipment that can be set up on site at the school.

Debbie Poerio, executive director of Integrated Health Systems,  said the new van will enable the program to extend dental care beyond the school-based health centers that currently exist at East Hartford High School, East Hartford Middle School, O'Brien Elementary and Silver Lane Elementary School. The van was paid for by donations from the Rotary Club, Masonicare, Gengras Auto and Hartford Despatch. 

The Galvin Dental program, which was founded by local dentist Dr. Thomas Galvin, has been providing dental care for East Hartford students since 2000.  At that time, the program could only provide preventative services such as sealants and cleanings. “It made a difference, but what we were finding was that students were still returning to us with significant decay that already been identified, but had not been addressed,'' Poerio said.

Many East Hartford students are on the state HUSKY medical plan, and often have limited access to dental care. In 2008, the program began offering restorative dental care such as filling cavities and treating gum disease.  “Within six months, the decay rate dropped by  27 percent,'' Poerio said. By the next year, it was down another 30 percent. It was then that we really realized the impact school-based dental care could have on the student population,'' she said.

Galvin, who has been in practice for 30 years, said East Hartford school children are part of a community that is underserved when it comes to dental care. “About 80 percent of the kids we see are on state aid, and many of the others are uninsured for dental care,'' said Galvin, who has an office in Glastonbury.  “We reduced the amount of decay that we saw from by 60 percent within the first year. It's fantastic to see that kind of impact.''

The new van will enable program staffers to bring dental equipment to more schools and set up in a room on site. Poerio said the van will expand the program to more elementary schools this fall. “Many of our parents are hard-working, with two or three jobs, and sometimes its a choice of losing time from work to take the children to a dental appointment. We also hope to set up at the homeless shelter on Main Street, where some East Hartford school children are also located.''

The school-based health centers provide a continuity of care that students learn to trust. “They come to us with all their questions and concerns, and they are not shy about it because they see us every day, so we're familiar to them,'' Poerio said. “We know that what affects a child from a health standpoint also affects their learning.''

The dental program is particularly effective, Poerio said, because students learn to trust and not fear the dentist. “We see them several times a year, much more often than the typical dentist visit once or twice a year.  They get know us, and they are not fearful about a trip to the dentist.''

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