Smiles polished up for vets during Dental Mission Week
Published on Monday, February 6, 2023
By: Danny Barrett Jr., email@example.com
Photos By: Jay Ferchaud/ UMMC Communications
Gene King probably hadn’t been in a dentist’s office since 1988 when he was a petroleum supply specialist in the Army.
“They used to just send us to the dentist when they said it was time to go,” King said.
He and fellow veterans had their smiles polished squeaky-clean Feb. 1 at the School of Dentistry on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus. Aside from receiving vital care ranging from basic cleaning to addressing more serious symptoms of periodontal disease as part of the school’s annual Dental Mission Week, the veterans on hand relished a chance to have such matters addressed in a warm, caring setting.
“People here are so friendly and nice,” he said. “It’s a good thing, because I hadn’t been to the dentist in years, since I got out the Army.”
King, of Jackson and a Meridian native, was among about 800 Mississippians who received basic and specialized care during the special week, an annual event since 2017. The effort involves volunteers from the schools of Dentistry, Nursing, Health Related Professions and Medicine, along with dentistry and dental hygiene students, volunteer dentists and staff from local practices.
Melody Longino, the school’s manager of ambulatory operations and Dental Mission Week coordinator, said the yearly event is the students’ chance to give back to the community, in particular veterans and the underserved. SOD cast a wide net this year to veteran-oriented groups, local soup kitchens and local schools to grow the event to nearly pre-pandemic levels.
“If you’re a veteran but not 100 percent service-connected, you don’t qualify for dental insurance,” Longino said. “They have to pay out their pocket. It leaves a huge void in coverage for veterans who need dental treatment. We reach out and talk with the VA facilities, the American Legion and VFW posts to get the word out to let them know about Dental Mission Week. In our opinion, it’s the part we can play to make sure the veterans are taken care of. We love and appreciate those who fought for our freedoms.”
Dentistry and dental hygiene students managed X-rays, provided cleanings, fillings and root canals and helped detect more complex issues such as extractions that required a follow-up visit.
Dwight Hollman rated his teeth a “nine” on a scale of 10 as he waited for his initial cleaning. His visit yielded advice from students and instructors that could have him back in a dentist’s chair soon, but kept his reaction brief.
“I just say to people brush your teeth twice a day, at least,” said Hollman, of Jackson, whose Army service began at the installation at Fort Campbell, Ky. and took him to Germany among other locales.
King’s cleaning was handled by dental hygiene student Kaitlin Ray, who’ll graduate this semester, and fellow student Kayden Chistov, who is in her second semester.
“We’re looking pretty good,” Ray told King, making sure to remind him of the often-forgotten act of using dental floss after brushing.
“Just from observation, I’ve seen a lot of gingivitis in people I’ve done work on,” Ray said later. “Many times, the reason for bleeding in the gums when cleaning is from a lack of flossing.”
It’s just as important for all SOD students to participate in the event each year because it only broadens their experience with a wide variety of situations, said Dr. Amy Sullivan, professor in dental hygiene.
“We get to use our ‘super tools’ for this one, like our ultrasonic cleaner,” Sullivan said. “We see a lot of tartar buildup and other signs of periodontal disease because there are plenty people who haven’t had their teeth cleaned in a while.”
King left with a goodie pack of toothpaste, a new brush and some floss. “You’re a champ,” Chistov told him as Dr. Sullivan polished up their work for good measure.
Some of this year’s total served came from Special Olympics Mississippi, which brought student-athletes from across the state on Feb. 2. Also on hand during the week were staff with the ACT Center for Tobacco Treatment, Education and Research. At a later date, SOD will resume the Give Kids A Smile event, Longino said. Instructors and students will travel to two Jackson public schools to provide teeth cleanings to a broad cross-section of students who in some cases might not qualify for Medicaid, she said.
Dental Mission Week is funded by sponsorships and donations, which go a long way to bridging the gap to quality oral care in Jackson. Hancock Whitney Bank contributed $25,000 to this year’s event to continue its status as a premier sponsor.
“The patients we see during this week typically don’t have any other access to dental care,” said Sheila Henderson, major gifts officer in the UMMC Office of Institutional Advancement. “Through this annual event, Hancock Whitney is helping the School of Dentistry provide much needed services to patients, helping them to minimize and possibly eliminate future problems with not only their oral health, but other medically related problems that may arise from lack of oral care.”