Featured Article

Saint Raphael's Dental Van Reaches Out to Migrants
Share this Content

A recent study in California found that 65 percent of children living in poverty do not receive regular dental care--often because families lack dental insurance.

In Connecticut, Saint Raphael's Hospital has operated a dental van that regularly visits schools and neighborhoods in the New Haven area to help adults and children access affordable care.

But the hospital's mission also reaches out to another under-served population: seasonal agricultural workers.Bishop's Orchard in Guilford
Bishop's Orchard in Guilford, CT

Saint Raphael's Hospital calls their traveling dental care initiative the Smiles to Go Van, except it's not really a van.

It's a 65-foot tractor trailer that makes quite an impression when rolling into a parking lot. On this day, the van stops at Bishop's Orchard in Guilford to check up on migrant workers at the farm.

Sharon McCrevan is a dental hygienist and program manager of the Smiles to Go Dental Van.

McCrevan says the van visits the orchard every summer.

"This year we're making three [visits.] We're trying to get it all in before apple season starts because that's when they're busiest. We take care of about 18 to 25, depending on how many migrants/seasonal workers are here at Bishop's."

She says the idea to help migrants came from a Sisters of Charity nun who took a special interest in helping seasonal workers.

That interest forged a relationship between St Raphael's and Bishop's Orchard more than five years ago.

"A lot of these men and women that come in haven't really seen a dentist since the last time we've been here. Some that we see for the first time have never been to a dentist. They're in their mid- to late-20s sometimes; they have a lot of issues going on."

Inside the Dental VanInside the Dental Van

Pablo is McCrevan's first patient of the morning.

"And he does have a lot of build up so we'll be using an ultra sonic scaler---mucho aqua, okay?

"Because Pablo hasn't had his teeth cleaned in a while--we saw him last year--he was going to come back and they got a little tied up in the fields and couldn't make it back in."

After Pablo's exam and cleaning are done, Sharon asks her colleague Elaine Spanato to translate.

"Pablo, me llamo Elaine."

Spanato is the van's care coordinator who's responsible for making referrals for patients that need further care.

She tells Pablo that he should get two of his impacted wisdom teeth taken out as soon as possible to avoid pain later.

She then walks down the hall to check on appointment times with Saint Raphael's oral surgery clinic.

Spanato's call helps Pablo get an appointment fairly soon.  And the cost for his follow-up care and for other migrants who need it is completely paid for by Saint Raphael's.

This outreach to seasonal workers wouldn't be possible without the orchard's consent. The workers' dental van visits and subsequent follow-up care take place on company time.

"We feel it's a good thing to have a service like that offered to our workers."

Jonathan BishopJonathan Bishop

Bishop's Orchard Vice President and Co-CEO Jonathan Bishop is in the orchard monitoring a controlled burn while his workers are getting dental care.

He says it's care that some of them desperately need.

"For the most part, they never complain, and when you find out the kind of dental issues they're dealing with and working... kind of surprised they can work productively and live with that kind of condition."

The Smiles to Go Dental van is planning one more visit to the orchard. The goal is to see as many of the migrants as possible before October when the workers leave to go home to their native country or onto another state to continue harvesting crops.