Edgewood students receive preventive dental care at the HSC
By Rosanne Fohn
Carlos Solis has never been fond of going to the dentist, but on his recent visit to the Dental School at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, the second-grader felt more comfortable than usual. “He was much more confident today,” said his mother, Maria Solis.
Carlos is one of more than 650 second-graders from Edgewood Independent School District who visited the Dental School Feb. 3 and 10 as part of National Children’s Dental Health Month activities.
Prevention and education
The children received dental screenings, fluoride treatments and dental sealants from more than 350 dental students and 60 dental hygiene students, working under the supervision of over 50 faculty members.
The dental health undergraduates also taught the children how to brush their teeth, and gave them a goodie bag with a dental health coloring book, toothbrush and floss to help reinforce good oral health habits.
Parents were given a full report from the screening, including any recommendations for follow-up care, through school nurses at the five elementary schools participating in the screenings.
“This is always a fun event for us,” said Gary Guest, D.D.S., coordinator of the dental sealant program and assistant dean for predoctoral clinics. “We actually have been working with the Edgewood students for 11 years, even before the American Dental Association started National Children’s Dental Health Month activities.”
Sealants help prevent cavities
“We chose second-graders for a reason,” he continued. “Most have gotten their first permanent molars by now. By sealing those teeth with dental varnish, we are helping to prevent a lot of dental caries. I like to think we’ve had a major impact on dental health in San Antonio over the 11 years we’ve been doing this program. We’ve probably put sealants on the teeth of more than 6,000 children,” Dr. Guest said.
Building confidence among dental and dental hygiene students
While the children had a fun, educational outing, they weren’t the only ones learning and building confidence. This is the first time first-year dental students had the chance to work in the dental clinic. “This is definitely a mentoring opportunity,” Dr. Guest said. “First-year dental students are paired with fourth-year students, and second-year students worked with third-years. It gives them the chance to share their knowledge,” Dr. Guest said.
Benjamin Vuong was clearly enjoying the experience. “I’ve gone on a couple of dental trips to the border as a volunteer, but this is the first time I’ve had the chance work in the clinic,” Vuong said. “Here you see what you are looking forward to doing in the profession, so it’s a big motivator. Every time we see a patient they leave a little better than when they came in.”
Shelly Verma, a fourth-year dental student mentoring Vuong and another first-year student, Azin Zamani, added, “They’re doing a great job. I remember what it was like where they are. I like to give them a little independence and let them tell me what they see (in the children’s mouths), then I confirm it. It helps build their confidence,” she said.
Neha Jonwal, a senior dental hygiene student, agreed that the experience was valuable. “We have placed sealants on each other, but this was my first time to place sealants on children. I’ve learned how important it is to explain to the children what you are going to do, step by step. I’ve also learned how to be quick and effective and to always use positive reinforcement to get their compliance.” The Department of Dental Hygiene, part of the School of Health Professions, is under the leadership of Taline Dadian Infante, M.S., RDH, associate professor and interim chair.
Conquering fear and developing better habits
Watching the children being ushered in and out of exam rooms, Michele Flores, RN, director of health services at Edgewood, said the field trip brings many benefits to the children. “This helps get the children ready for school testing this spring, because some may not see a dentist on a regular basis. I have been shocked by some of the things they (the dental and dental hygiene students) find — sometimes really bad abscesses. Those children would not be able to concentrate at school with that pain. It also helps the children not be afraid of going to the dentist. If they continue with the good habits they learn here about brushing their teeth, they will be healthier.
“Our hope, too, is that this might pique the children’s interest in becoming a dentist or dental hygienist. We are very blessed to have this available to our children,” Flores said.
The Dental Sealant Program would not be possible without the support of the Harvey E. Najim Family Foundation, which provided some of the dental supplies, and longtime sponsor Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas Inc., which paid for supplies and has upgraded equipment used in the sealant clinics over the years. “A good example of this is the hand-held lights used to cure the dental sealants,” Dr. Guess said. “We are very grateful to the Najim Family Foundation and Methodist Healthcare Ministries for helping us offer free dental care and education to the children, and to better prepare our own students for practice,” he said.
A sealant in private dental practice costs about $45. More than 1,200 sealants were applied this year, so the value of these services to the 650 children seen at the Health Science Center is more than $50,000, not counting the professional services provided at no cost by the Dental School and Department of Dental Hygiene.
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