SOD serves more than 1,000 during third Dental Mission Week
Published on Monday, February 11, 2019
By: Kate Royals
Cleaning the teeth of an elementary school student who has never been to a dentist before.
Forming, fitting and making dentures for cancer patients and others who need them.
Doing fillings, sealants and other work on veterans who don’t have dental benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
These are only a few examples of the work that goes on during Dental Mission Week, a massive undertaking by the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry.
During the course of the week, dental and dental hygiene students provided free dental care to 1,444 underserved children, adults and veterans under the supervision of faculty – about 100 more patients than the previous year. Volunteers from the Schools of Pharmacy, Medicine, Nursing and Health Related Professions helped with filling prescriptions and assessing patients’ health before they go to the dental chair.
The event serves a dual purpose: dental and dental hygiene students receive invaluable education and service experience, and community members who need it the most receive quality dental care.
The weeklong service event kicked off with the 13th annual Give Kids a Smile Day, where School of Dentistry students saw 410 children from elementary schools in Jackson.
Johnson Elementary School 2nd grader Za’Marriah Trotter walked out of the clinic Monday morning with a smile and a new toothbrush and toothpaste.
“He cleaned my teeth really good,” she said. “They feel better.”
The only downside? “It made me thirsty.”
Dr. Maureen Malingkas, a first-year dental resident, worked with other residents to treat students with special needs. By about 11 a.m. on Monday, she had seen seven students already, some of whom had cavities and hadn’t been to a dentist in a while.
“I think it’s great to give back to the community. Even if they (the students) have been exposed to a dentist before, it’s good to have it re-enforced,” she said.
For some kids, however, it’s their first time seeing a dentist. Those children usually have significant decay or other oral problems and their parents receive a referral for follow-up treatment.
The service is particularly needed in Mississippi, a state which ranks at the bottom in oral health. A 2013 survey found 63 percent of 3rd graders had experienced at least one cavity, 31 percent currently had untreated tooth decay and five percent were in need of urgent dental care, according to the Mississippi Department of Health.
Dr. John Smith, associate professor and assistant dean for admissions and student affairs, oversaw dental hygiene students who were performing limited exams, cleanings, sealants and fluoride treatments for children. He said they had seen several students with decay and even one who was complaining of pain.
Throughout the rest of the week, dental students were also working with faculty in the Department of Care Planning and Restorative Sciences to make 22 sets of dentures – worth up to $5,000 each – for patients in three days. The patients spent up to 10 hours in the chair over the course of four days, and students spent countless hours in the clinic and lab, but the results were well worth it.
Flowood resident Patricia Hubbard came in January to get the mold set for her dentures. After initially thinking she wouldn’t receive the final product until August, she got a call from the School of Dentistry asking if she’d be interested in having them made during Dental Mission Week.
“I told them ‘yes!’”
On Thursday, third-year dental student Kyle Walker was sanding down her dentures to make sure they fit perfectly. It’s a tedious process that involves lots of adjustments and attention to detail.
Walker had labored for hours in the clinic and in the lab making those teeth.
“If I drop this thing, you’ll all see a grown man cry,” he joked.
“A grown woman too!” Hubbard responded.
But he didn’t drop them – he got them to fit just right with the help of Dr. David Felton, dean of the School of Dentistry and professor of care planning and restorative sciences. When Hubbard first saw herself in the mirror with her new teeth, she cried. Then she began singing hymns – “Oh Happy Day” and “Amazing Grace,” to name a few.
“I can sing better now, and I can smile,” she said, grinning for the camera. She noted she never liked having her picture taken before, but now she didn’t mind it.
“You are you today,” Walker told her, adding that dentures are his favorite thing to do “because people go from nothing to everything. It’s all smiles in this clinic – no drilling, no shots.”
Michael Evans of Monticello received an advanced type of dentures called an obturator. Evans, a veteran of the U.S. Army who was stationed in Germany during the Vietnam War, had oral cancer. Radiation left his sinus open to the oral cavity, and he was not able to get any surgery to correct it. The obturator closes the opening and replaced the missing part of his left maxilla, or upper jaw, explained Dr. Firas Mourad, professor of dentistry in the Department of Care Planning and Restorative Sciences.
Evans, along with 240 other veterans without dental benefits who needed dental care, were seen on Thursday, also known as Veterans Day.
Evans said he’d had dentures before that he’d wear to church when he had to read, but they hurt badly and he always ended up having to take them off.
“A dentist once told me I’d never be able to wear dentures again. I can’t wait to go show him,” Evans laughed.
Taylor Bolland, third-year dental student, made the teeth under the supervision of Felton and Mourad.
“Thank God for the crew here,” Evans said, flashing his new smile.