Building Blocks for a Healthier Future
by Anne-Kathleen KregerSplashes of rosy red, cobalt blue and canary yellow adorn the walls. Every visitor receives a pair of stylish metallic sunglasses. The halls echo with the voices of children – anxious whispers and excited laughter.
What sounds like the latest amusement park attraction is actually the dental clinic at the Ricardo Salinas Health Center, located on San Antonio’s far West Side at 630 S. General McMullen.
Timothy Henson, D.M.D., assistant professor and clinic director, visits with patients Cesar Rubio (center) and Robert Castillo, as they prepare to see the dentists at the Salinas Clinic.
Last spring, the Health Science Center partnered with the San Antonio Housing Authority, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District and Methodist Healthcare Ministries to establish the Pediatric Dental Care Program at the Salinas Clinic. This program provides much-needed oral health care for San Antonio-area mothers and children.
"The need for oral health care in this area of the city is phenomenal, and the Pediatric Dental Care Program is beginning to address this need," said Timothy Henson, D.M.D., the clinic’s director and assistant professor in pediatric dentistry.
In addition to providing the program’s manpower – pediatric dentistry faculty, dental residents and dental students – the Health Science Center also outfitted the clinic’s operatories with new, state-of-the-art equipment.
Health Science Center dentists provide evaluations, cleanings, fillings and extractions for the patients. But they also provide another key component in improving oral health: counseling for mothers and children about preventing oral disease.
Because of this partnership, patients like 8-year-old Cesar Rubio can receive necessary dental care.
Three months ago, Cesar visited the clinic for the first time because of a painful emergency – an abscessed baby tooth that needed extraction. If gone untreated, this could have caused a serious oral infection, which could have led to an expensive emergency room visit.
But through the Pediatric Dental Care Program, Health Science Center dentists performed the necessary procedure. Today Cesar is not only smiling a little bigger – he is also making regular visits to the Salinas Dental Clinic.
Patient Cesar Rubio relaxes in the dental chair, smiling alongside Omalola Adetona, D.D.S, (left) second-year dental resident, and Sandra Guzman, dental assistant.
The Pediatric Dental Care Program has greatly improved access to oral health care for a large segment of the population. But the patients are not the sole beneficiaries of this program. This program also molds and educates Health Science Center dental students – the professionals of the future.
"This is a one-of-a-kind pre-doctoral pediatric dental experience in this country," said Dr. Henson. Few dental schools offer undergraduate dental students the opportunity to treat such large numbers of small children. Through this program, students studying to be general dentists experience unique training in pediatric dentistry.
While working in this clinic, dental students gain a wealth of clinical experience that they otherwise might miss. They learn about the barriers to health care, and they also learn that as future health professionals, they have a responsibility to help solve the health problems of the community.
April Sousa and Jennifer Burcin, both fourth-year dental students at the Health Science Center, agreed that their time at the Salinas Clinic has played an important role in their dental education.
"Working in this clinic really opened my eyes to the need that is out there," Sousa said.
"This experience will encourage us, once we graduate, to spend some of our time volunteering and helping to meet this need," Burcin added.
Dr. Henson calls the clinic a "living laboratory." This living laboratory is providing Health Science Center dental students with unique real-world learning experiences – and providing much-needed dental care and oral health education to children across San Antonio.
"The Pediatric Dental Care Program at the Salinas Clinic serves as a model for San Antonio and beyond for the delivery of pediatric dental care," Dr. Henson said. Through this program, the Health Science Center is providing the building blocks for a healthier future.
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