A timeless commitment to family dental care

When The Floating Hospital moved into its new clinic in Long Island City in 2021, it was an opportunity to expand our dental offerings. Once a pair of dental chairs set up in a small space on the ship, today, our dental practice encompasses seven chairs and a staff of ten, offering broad access to premium oral care and preventative education.

Ernesto Hart, the department’s manager, recalls joining The Floating Hospital in 1991 after a faculty member at New York University’s dental assistant program introduced him to the opportunity. “That summer position set the course for my life’s work,” he says. Now, after more than three decades of service, he is helping set a new course for quality dental care for New York City families who need but cannot afford it.

Hart says the initial focus was primarily on dental screenings: identifying cavities and referring patients to appropriate facilities for further care. Now. The dental team provides an array of services from routine checkups and X-rays to specialized treatments such as root canals. Every patient’s journey in our clinic begins with a thorough exam and culminates in a customized treatment plan.

Good oral care for everyone

According to a 2021 CDC study, dental care remains a significant challenge for many, with 29% of Americans lacking dental insurance, a figure that rises to 62% for seniors.

Addressing these challenges is core to our mission. By offering dental care to all who need it regardless of the ability to pay, we help ease the way for families that have to make a difficult choice between essentials such as food and healthcare.

Education is key. Both in our ship’s early days and now, health educators engage patients with workshops and activities that promote oral health awareness. And now, that includes educating the rising number of migrants, who may have varying issues around the culture of healthcare in general and oral care specifically. One such example, says Floating Hospital dentist Rita Estephan, is advising new migrants, who often come from countries where it is unsafe to drink tap water, about drinking tap water, which in New York, is fluoridated. Another significant knowledge gap is how bacterial transmissions spread, which can lead to dental issues.

Dr. Estephan highlights how Floating Hospital integrated services can help a patient with other issues. “At times, poor oral hygiene may signal underlying psychological issues, prompting a referral to our behavioral health department,” she says. Also, staff are trained to look for signs of physical injury that may telegraph signs of abuse.

And, there are other times when the “more than healthcare” model results in a smile. Hart recalls a heartwarming patient story that reaffirms why we do what we do.

“A young patient, who had lost a tooth due to a sports injury, was about to miss her prom. Our team stepped in, providing a partial denture. That evening at prom, she confidently showcased her full smile.”

The Floating Hospital thanks the Hearst Foundations and the Oral Health Foundation of the Pierre Fauchard Academy, which have supported the new clinic with grants for equipment and supplies.

By Matt Fink

This post is featured in our monthly newsletter from August 2023.

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The Floating Hospital provides high-quality healthcare to anyone who needs it regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, immigration or insurance status, or the ability to pay. By providing unrestricted medical care in tandem with health education and social support to vulnerable New York City families, The Floating Hospital aims to ensure those most in need have the ability to thrive, not just survive.


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