SOD ramps up involvement in the community
By Matt Westerfield
By 9 a.m. on the morning of July 15, some 650 people had already turned out to receive free dental care at Mississippi's first Mission of Mercy dental clinic, held at the Jackson Convention Complex.
The two-day event, sponsored by the Mississippi Dental Association, the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry and other groups, aimed to provide adults and children who don't have access to dental care through dental insurance or other means with fillings and extractions.
"We're here to meet needs and alleviate the pain and suffering from those people who can't afford to pay and don't meet the requirements for Medicaid or other programs," said Dr. Mark Donald (class of 1988), MDA president and chair of the Mississippi Mission of Mercy project. "This is a way to bridge that gap, and it leads to better overall health."
Overall, 1,435 patients received volunteer treatment from 133 dentists from around the state, including School of Dentistry faculty, residents and students. The need and the show of support made a clear statement: Community service is something dentists take seriously. And it's something the dental school and its students are becoming more involved in, says Dr. Gary Reeves, interim dean of the school.
"Service learning is a vital part of the mission for our School of Dentistry," Reeves said. "These types of experiences help our graduates become concerned and caring community leaders. This Mission of Mercy projects blends well with our educational objectives."
"In addition to participating in the annual Give Kids a Smile Day, sponsored by the American Dental Association, students are getting more service learning opportunities.
This fall, fourth-year dental students will begin serving clinical rotations the Mission First dental clinic in west Jackson.
"Mission First is for people who fall between the cracks," said Dr. Robin Howard, School of Dentistry instructor. "If you have Medicaid/Medicare, CHIPs, you're not eligible. This is for somebody who needs care that doesn't have access to care. And they are backlogged two and three years. They have so many patients that they're behind. And it's an opportunity to serve and help them out."
Additionally, the number of public health clinics where students gain experience is expanding. Howard said students will serve four-day rotations at sites ranging from Mound Bayou to Meridian and more.
There is a tremendous need for oral care across the state and in the Delta, she said, but that need also is in our own backyard. On Aug. 22, Howard and other faculty members screened more than 200 students and Brown Elementary School in Jackson.
"We saw kids who had systemic issues because their teeth are infected due to poor diet or neglect," she said. "They've got all these patients who need dentists, and we've got all these students who need patients."
Service Learning Community Oral Health Week, set for February, also gives dental students a chance to visit area schools and talk with kids about oral health issues of their own choosing.
"Education is an important part of outreach," Howard said.
- Note: The next Mississippi Mission of Mercy clinic is set for April 4-6, 2013.