Migrant children receive dental care aboard UTHSC mobile clinics
Roy Carmona, a fifth-grader at Nelson Elementary School on San Antonio’s West Side, frequently flashes the mischievous smile that suits his 11 years. The challenge aboard the Health Science Center’s mobile dental clinic, parked outside the elementary school, is to protect those pearly whites.
This might be the only dental care available to Roy. He is the child of migrant farm workers who travel during the summers to pick strawberries and other crops. His father works on construction projects in San Antonio part of the year.
"This program intercedes when the children are in school in San Antonio," said Vidal G. Balderas, D.D.S., clinical assistant professor of community dentistry at the Health Science Center. "We also refer some of our young patients to community dentists who are willing to provide care for adjusted payment."
More than 1,500 migrant children have been identified in the San Antonio Independent School District, and about a third visit the mobile dental clinic when it parks at their elementary, junior high or high schools.
"It provides treatment that the majority of our students wouldn’t receive otherwise," said Jane Wiesehan, R.N., migrant health nurse with the San Antonio ISD. "Our intent is to provide early dental prevention and treatment before lifelong dental problems develop."
The mobile dental clinic staff made 37 visits to San Antonio ISD schools during 1999. Faculty and students from the Health Science Center’s Dental School provided 429 individual treatments, ranging from preventive sealants to fillings to relief for painful abscesses. Under the Dental School’s affiliation agreement with the San Antonio ISD, 58 fourth-year dental students went on the school visits.
"We’ve seen the positive impact made by the program," said Dr. Balderas, who has worked aboard the mobile dental clinic since 1987. "By reaching students early, we ensure that fewer children suffer severe problems."
The Dental School operates two mobile units that travel throughout the South Texas/Border Region to reach those in need. The clinics serve about 2,000 people a year, including schoolchildren, underserved South Texas residents, mentally compromised patients and young athletes in need of mouth guards.
The clinics provide an excellent educational environment for dental students, fellows and residents. "All dental students should have the opportunity to work with populations that are underserved," Dr. Balderas said. "The Dental School has done the right thing in providing this program."
San Antonio ISD schools served by the mobile clinics included Lanier and Fox Tech high schools; Rhodes, Irving and Tafolla middle schools; and De Zavala, Crockett, Carvajal, Bowden and Nelson elementary schools.
The Dental School has a second affiliation agreement, with the Christian Medical and Dental Society, in which dental students travel on designated weekends to areas in South Texas with a shortage of dental care. Under the supervision of faculty, they provide primary dental care to underserved South Texas residents, many of whom are from colonias.
As she cleaned Roy Carmona’s teeth and spotted a cavity that needed filling, fourth-year dental student Crystell Billman obviously enjoyed interacting with the precocious youngster. She presented him with a "My Teeth Have Been Cleaned" sticker.
"I’m happy that the dental clinic came to my school," Roy said. "My mom was really excited about it, too."