Shaping teeth, minds and waistlines is how Mary Mabry describes the mission of Mississippi Wellness Group.
That's the business plan created by Mabry, Katie Cranston, Alex Himel and Scarlett Woods, master's in biomedical sciences students in the School of Graduate Studies, for the second annual Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi Social Business Challenge held Feb. 10.
Their project, “Addressing disparities in dental care access utilizing a school-based mobile dental home and nutrition education program in underserved communities in north Mississippi,” won second place.
“We were really excited and surprised when they announced our team,” Mabry said.
Eleven teams from Mississippi's public universities presented their ideas to a panel of health and business professionals in the Institutions of Higher Learning board room in Jackson. The teams from the University of Southern Mississippi placed first and Delta State University placed third.
Dr. Glenn Boyce, commissioner of higher education, announces the winners of the Blueprint Mississippi Social Business Challenge on Feb. 10 at the state capitol.
“The Social Business Challenge was designed to give students the opportunity to showcase their ideas and ingenuity as they work as teams to develop plans for businesses focused on reducing obesity and related health issues,” said Dr. Glenn Boyce, commissioner of higher education.
Social businesses, a term coined by Nobel laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus, are formed to address a social problem. They recirculate profits into business development to extend their mission rather than increase an owner's personal wealth. TOMS and Newman's Own brands are examples.
But instead of selling shoes or salad dressing, the Mississippi Wellness Group will be in the smile business. The mobile dental service would provide preventive and minor restorative care and nutritional counseling to north Mississippi students who do not have a regular dentist.
Most of Mississippi is within a health-care provider shortage area, and forty-seven percent of residents didn't visit a dentist's office last year, highlighting the need for access to care.
“Wellness starts in the mouth,” Mabry said.
This goes beyond eating too many refined sugars, which contribute to both tooth decay and obesity. During the presentation, Cranston explained that obesity is an inflammatory disease that can manifest throughout the body, including in the gums or other oral tissues.
Mary Mabry, biomedical sciences student, presents her team's business plan at the Blueprint Mississippi Social Business Challenge.
Mississippi Wellness Group would develop their clientele by involving school nurses and superintendents. The mobile clinic would then visit schools two or three times a year, doing routine screenings and filling cavities, a service similar mobile clinics do not provide.
“We want this to become a patient's dental home,” Mabry said.
Mississippi Wellness Group would refer clients with advanced cases to regional dentists to build partnerships with established practices, Woods says.
The care also extends to nutrition. Students will receive individualized education on healthy food choices. As students track their wellness habits and do well in school, they can earn points redeemable for prizes like movie tickets and toys.
The team predicts that 7,000 students could be served by Mississippi Wellness Group annually. Within two years of beginning operations, the company's goal is to reduce incidence of dental cavities by 50 percent and obesity by 20 percent in their patients.
“The mobile dental clinics proposed by the University of Mississippi Medical Center's team have tremendous potential to help Mississippi's children with both dental health and overall wellness,” Boyce said.
Mabry's idea formed when she was a student at University of Southern Mississippi, but she didn't find interested teammates for last year's Social Business Challenge. She met Himel, Cranston and Woods in classes at UMMC and told them about her vision. They were on board.
“It's been rewarding to work with a group and turn this dream into something cool,” Mabry says.
The second place finish earned the team $3,000 for business costs, $300 to each team member for education expenses and individual medals. They will also file business plans with the state.
“We could not have done it without the help and support of Dr. Josh Mann and Dr. Penni Foster,” Woods said. “They really helped us prepare for the difficult question and answer portion of the competition and gave us valuable input on how to tackle some of the obstacles we faced.”
Mann, professor and chair of preventive medicine, served as the team's faculty mentor.
“I received an email from Katie (Cranston) with an outline of the topic and thought it was great that they wanted to promote preventive care,” Mann said.
All four students plan to continue their studies at UMMC: Mabry and Woods in the School of Dentistry, Cranston and Himel in the School of Medicine.
Mann says that having the two disciplines represented is a strength.
“I think it speaks very well for the Medical Center and for the biomedical sciences program in the School of Graduate Studies in particular,” Mann said. “The proposed work has the potential to have a substantial impact on the health of children in Mississippi.”
“This team of students did an amazing job and demonstrated that they are valuable future leaders in Mississippi's healthcare. They were creative, enthusiastic and passionate about improving the lives and wellness of children across our state,” said Foster, associate professor and director of the Office of Community Education, who helped coordinate the team.
“Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi is pleased to be the title sponsor for the Social Business Challenge,” said Sheila Grogan, vice president of community and public relations for BCBSMS. “As a health and wellness company, we are focused on providing opportunities for Mississippians to become healthier.”
What is next for the Mississippi Wellness Group?
“We will most likely conduct an oral health and wellness outreach day at elementary schools in the Jackson area,” Mabry said.
But for now, the team is all smiles.