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Published in CenterView on April 15, 2013
Local dentist Dr. Jeff Hartsog (left) and students Chandler Pleasant (center) and Bryant Trotter perform an initial exam during the Mission of Mercy Project July 15.
Local dentist Dr. Jeff Hartsog (left) and students Chandler Pleasant (center) and Bryant Trotter perform an initial exam during the Mission of Mercy Project July 15.

UMMC partners with MDA to provide free dental services for 2,000 patients

By Matt Westerfield

The School of Dentistry at the University of Mississippi Medical Center will all but close down later this month when all of its 140 students and many faculty and staff members swap the school’s classrooms and clinics for a chance to provide free services to thousands of Mississippians who are living in pain from untreated dental conditions.

2011 Mission of Mercy event
2011 Mission of Mercy event

The Mississippi Dental Association will host its second Mission of Mercy Project, cosponsored by the School of Dentistry and other groups, April 26-27 at the Clyde Muse Center on the Pearl campus of Hinds Community College.

This year, the SOD, the School of Health Related Profession’s Dental Hygiene Program and the School of Pharmacy will play a much bigger role in the large-scale effort, offering fillings and extractions for adults and children with limited access to dental care.

Dr. W. Mark Donald, former MDA president and project chair, said many in the state are going without dental care even when they are in pain and discomfort.

“With the economy like it is, we’re finding parents are putting their money toward their kids’ dental care. And this is what we’re seeing across the nation,” said Donald, a 1988 graduate of the SOD. “The kids are seeing treatment, but the adults are not.”

Donald spearheaded the state’s first MOM project in July 2011, when close to 1,800 people were treated in two days. The goal is to treat 2,000 this time.

“Some of these people might not be in pain, but they know they have some problems,” said Dr. Harold Kolodney, professor in the Division of Oral Oncology in the Department of Oral Maxillofacial Surgery and Pathology and current MDA president. “And Medicaid only covers extractions for adults, so a lot of them put off seeing a dentist.

“This is a unique opportunity for them to get immediate care.”

2011 Mission of Mercy event
2011 Mission of Mercy event

It’s also a unique opportunity for UMMC students, faculty and staff to gain experience and put their skills and altruism to work on a grand scale.

Since the first MOM clinic took place during the summer, it was more difficult to coordinate student volunteers, said Dr. Pia Chatterjee Kirk, assistant professor of care planning and restorative sciences. She said those who did volunteer were only able to assist the dentists.

This year, all 35 fourth-year students will be assigned chairs to treat patients - with faculty supervision - or provide care in some capacity. And all three years of underclassmen will volunteer as well.

“Number one, it’s such a great experience for the students to give back to the community,” Kirk said. “And No. 2, it gives them the opportunity to work alongside dental providers in the community and make those connections and build camaraderie with them.

“If this is successful, then maybe it can be a precedent for future MOMs and can be a model for other volunteer clinics around the country.”

2011 Mission of Mercy event
2011 Mission of Mercy event

Dental hygienists also will be on hand this year to provide comprehensive treatment for adult patients. Elizabeth Carr, assistant professor of dental hygiene in SHRP, assisted at the clinic in 2011 and said it was an eye-opening experience.

“The first year, it was me, (instructor) Angie Garner and three students who volunteered, and they loved it. They assisted the dentists,” she said. “We got to see some really in-depth things the dentists did.

“We saw a whole section of emergency patients who needed teeth pulled right then, and those people were there at the crack of dawn.”

Carr and several other faculty members, including program chair Beckie Barry, will provide treatment this year, and all 18 senior dental hygiene students have volunteered as well.

Dr. Lauren Bloodworth, clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice and director of student affairs/student professional development, is organizing the on-site pharmacy as she did in 2011. This year, she expects 10-15 faculty members and approximately 40 pharmacy students to volunteer.

“We’ll dispense things like antibiotics and non-narcotic pain medication,” she said. “We have pharmacists fill the prescriptions and the students counsel every patient that comes through, explaining their medications to them.”

Most of those medical supplies were bought with funds raised by the MDA, although some were the result of donations to the pharmacy school.

Donald said the MDA has raised approximately $115,000 for the project so far, a substantial increase from last time, which is used to rent the equipment - 120 chairs and units – and to purchase supplies and food for the volunteers and patients.

“We want to give quality care, but we want to see as many patients as possible,” he said.

“The success of a project this size would not be possible without the dedicated work behind the scenes done by Marla Martin and assisted by Agnes Triplett at the School of Dentistry and Michelle Aiken at the MDA Foundation,” Kolodney said. “Marla has managed logistics, including supplies, workspace and patient flow on a grand scale. Michelle has succeeded in securing grant support from organizations, including the Walmart Foundation, United Way, McRae Foundation and others.”

Donald said the partnership with UMMC has been extremely positive.

“We couldn’t do without them, that’s the bottom line,” he said. “And I have to thank the dean, Dr. Gary Reeves, because he’s the one who allowed it to happen.”

For more information about volunteer opportunities, call Connie Lane at (601) 664-9691.