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Arkansas dentist motivates others

MOM organizer given ADAF Tarrson award

Arkadelphia, Ark.—Dr. Miranda Childs-Bebee is the first to admit that if she'd known what coordinating a Mission of Mercy program involved, she might never have suggested bringing one to Arkansas.

"It was overwhelming," she said, "I kept thinking, 'What have I done?' "

But Arkansas needed a dental access program such as this more than Dr. Childs-Bebee needed sleep. And she quickly learned that it's entirely possible to squeeze phone calls and e-mails in between patients.

Dr. Childs-Bebee's hard work paid off. That first ArMOM, in May 2007, treated more than 1,500 patients and also provided $630,000 in donated dental care. This year's program increased the number to 2,000 patients. The state hopes to make it an annual event that travels all over Arkansas in its efforts to help the underserved.

For those achievements and for displaying exceptional leadership in her state, Dr. Childs-Bebee is the recipient of this year's ADA Foundation E. Bud Tarrson Access to Oral Health Care Award.

Created in 2003 in honor of philanthropist E. Bud Tarrson, the award honors one individual each year that has demonstrated exceptional leadership and inspiration in enhancing access to care at the grassroots level.

"It was an honor and privilege working with Dr. Childs-Bebee while she successfully planned and executed our first ArMOM event," wrote Edie Mauldin-Arey, executive director of the Arkansas State Dental Association, in her nomination. "During the eight months of planning the project, I developed enormous respect for her dedication to the profession as I observed the endless months she worked planning this tremendous event to help the citizens of Arkansas who suffer from dental pain."

For ArMOM, Dr. Childs-Bebee said she relied heavily on what Kansas and Nebraska and other MOM states did before. She said she appreciated having a blueprint for this oral health initiative, which brings volunteer dentists, hygienists, dental assistants and community members together to spend a weekend providing free dental care.

Dr. Childs-Bebee became involved with the project after someone proposed a MOM in Arkansas at a September 2006 meeting.

It was intimidating but she didn't have time to let it get to her.

A Delta Dental of Arkansas grant took care of costs for that first mission—and the company agreed to sponsor 2008 and 2009 MOMs as well. Additional sponsors also signed on after hearing the state's desire to treat its underserved—many of which were in severe pain. Patients traveled to Little Rock from all over Arkansas to receive restorations, cleanings, endodontic therapy and extractions. "Stressing the need for this wasn't hard," Dr. Childs-Bebee said. "People got that immediately. When we told them what we were doing, they were amazed that dentists would do so much for free."

Dr. Childs-Bebee became interested in volunteerism while an undergraduate studying pre-medicine at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. It was during a volunteer trip in Brazil that the realities of the medical world—and the probability that she could lose a patient—prompted her switch to dentistry.

She hasn't regretted that decision and has practiced for 14 years since graduating from the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry.

"She's just an amazing person," said Ms. Mauldin-Arey. "She fits in with any crowd and she's able to reach people and talk to them. That's a real talent. She doesn't have an agenda and she's one of those people that can motivate others to do things that they never thought they'd be able to do."

Dr. Childs-Bebee also received an Access Recognition Award from the ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations in 2007, which automatically entered her into consideration for the Tarrson Award.