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Dental students provide screenings, career inspiration to kids

Posted: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 · Volume: XLII · Issue: 4

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Contact: Will Sansom, (210) 567-2579

Story by Rosanne Fohn


First-year dental student Maegan Elam (left) and third-year dental student Flor Moreno (right) examine Hector Aguilar’s teeth.
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First-year dental student Maegan Elam (left) and third-year dental student Flor Moreno (right) examine Hector Aguilar’s teeth.clear graphic

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SAN ANTONIO (Feb. 13, 2008) — Seven-year-old second-grader Hector Aguilar had been thinking about running for president of the United States when he grows up. But after getting an A+ at his dental screening at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio on “National Give Kids A Smile Day,” Feb. 16, he just may be thinking about becoming a dentist someday.

Aguilar was one of more than 750 second-graders from Edgewood Independent School District (EISD) who were smiling a little brighter after receiving dental screenings and sealants from UT Health Science Center dental students during February, National Children's Dental Health Month.

The community sealant program provides clinical training and the opportunity for community service for the dental students, while offering basic dental care for an underserved part of the community.

In addition to receiving a good check-up, Aguilar was so cooperative that one of the dental students allowed him to check her teeth, dressed as a dentist. He smiled and posed for a photographer’s camera while considering the possible career choice. A boy of few words, Aguilar shook his head affirmatively when asked if he might consider becoming a dentist some day.

“We make this a fun experience for the kids,” Gary Guest, D.D.S., coordinator of the Dental Sealant program and assistant dean for predoctoral clinics, said. “Our dental students look over the children’s teeth. They show them how to brush and floss and then they apply dental sealants to the children’s molars, the teeth in the back that are most prone to cavities. They may also give the children a fluoride rinse,” he said.


Second-grader Hector Aguilar gives his dental exam a thumbs-up. Shown with him (from left) are his mother, Vanessa Aguilar, Dr. Penn Jackson, and dental students Flor Moreno and Maegan Elam.
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Second-grader Hector Aguilar gives his dental exam a thumbs-up. Shown with him (from left) are his mother, Vanessa Aguilar, Dr. Penn Jackson, and dental students Flor Moreno and Maegan Elam.clear graphic

 

“One of our major goals with this program is to educate the children and their families about the importance of taking care of their teeth. When they leave, the children get a little bag with a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste and a coloring book about oral hygiene to take home,” he said.

The field trip is part of the children’s health unit at school. “The teachers make sure that the children’s parents get a report about what was done at the dental screening so that they will know if the children need follow-up urgent care,” Dr. Guest added.

Children who need follow-up care are referred to the Ricardo Salinas Clinic, the Dental School or to another affiliated free or low-cost dental clinic. Last year, 60 children were referred for follow-up care.

More than 350 dental students and 45 supervising dental faculty conduct the screenings and apply sealants in the Health Science Center’s 150-chair Dental Clinic.

“There are multiple benefits from this program,” said Julia Garcia, RN, director of health services for EISD. “There is the education about dental health, the opportunity to come to a university and the chance to expose the children to a career in dental health. We are trying to instill in the children as early as possible to stay in school and continue their education. Over the years I’ve heard some of the students who have come to the sealant clinic say that they want to become dentists. We reinforce this with career days.”

This is the eighth year the Edgewood students have come to the Health Science Center for exams and sealants, thanks to funding provided by Methodist Healthcare Ministries that covers the cost of dental materials and transportation for the children. A sealant in private dental practice costs about $40. The value of these services to the 750 students is more than $25,000, not counting the professional services provided at no cost by the Dental School. Overall, the UT Health Science Center provides $102 million in uncompensated care per year in the communities it serves throughout South Texas.

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The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $576 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $15.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 23,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and other health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, visit www.uthscsa.edu.

 
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