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ADA Foundation recognizes dental school programs serving the underserved

February 15, 2016

By David Burger

Los Angeles — The University of Southern California and UCLA are fierce rivals on the football field, but now both schools have reason to celebrate each other’s achievements.

The ADA Foundation announced Jan. 22 the recipients of its E. “Bud” Tarrson Dental School Student Community Leadership Awards and Dr. Thomas J. Zwemer Award for the 2015-16 school year, and the Foundation has lauded both USC’s Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry and UCLA’s School of Dentistry, among other schools across the nation.

The Tarrson Awards recognize excellence in dental school student programs that provide services to underserved populations within the U.S. Each award is valued at $5,000.

The ADA Foundation’s Tarrson Fund was created in 2003 by Linda Tarrson in remembrance of her husband E. “Bud” Tarrson, longtime owner of the former John O. Butler Company and oral health philanthropist. A generous gift from ADA Business Resources allows the ADA Foundation to present five additional Tarrson Awards in 2016. This year’s six Tarrson Award recipients are:

  • Creighton University School of Dentistry for its St. Francis Mission Dental Clinic on the Rosebud Reservation.
  • Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of the University of Southern California for its mobile clinic program.
  • Loma Linda University School of Dentistry for its Compassion Clinic.
  • UCLA School of Dentistry for its Operation Bruin Smiles program.
  • University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Dentistry for its Jackson Free Clinic.
  • University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine for its Give Kids A Smile Summer Smiles program.
Dr. Santosh Sundaresan, director of the USC mobile health clinic for seven years, said the program began in 1968 and has treated more than 80,000 children of migrant farm workers throughout southern and central California.

The program operates a fleet of five vehicles, including the late-January delivery of a new vehicle that has eight dental chairs and a special room for X-rays. The program has been so valuable, Dr. Sundaresan said, that since 1994 all doctoral dental students are required to include it in their clinical rotation.

“It gives an important lesson in life,” Dr. Sundaresan said. “You can truly see the impact you can make on a population that doesn’t have access to dental services. There’s a sense of satisfaction by giving a helping hand.”

While being predominantly a pediatric program, the mobile clinics also spend time treating homeless veterans. In addition, the Special Olympics World Summer Games were hosted by Los Angeles in 2015, and the USC mobile clinics treated more than 500 athletes during the event, Dr. Sundaresan said.

Dr. Edmond Hewlett, associate dean for outreach and diversity and professor of restorative dentistry at the UCLA School of Dentistry, said that Operation Bruin Smiles grew out of the Veterans Services Committee of the university’s chapter of the American Student Dental Association.

There are dual objectives of Operation Bruin Smiles, with two different disadvantaged groups targeted. The program provides subsidized dental care to students who are veterans or are former foster youth, as well as educates them on how they can enter the dental school pipeline in order to support efforts to bring students from diverse backgrounds into the school.

When the students came to Dr. Hewlett to ask him to be a faculty advisor for Operation Bruin Smiles, he recalled saying, “Thank you for coming to me.” He continued: “I was thrilled. I was excited to play a little bit of a role in this.”

Dental school students are very busy, Dr. Hewlett said, so coming up with a program helping out other students made him have “a great feeling of pride.”

Each year, the Zwemer Award recognizes excellence in a dental school student program that serves underserved communities outside of the U.S. This year’s Zwemer Award winner is Loma Linda University School of Dentistry for its Nicaragua mission trip. The Foundation will award $5,000 to the school in support of the program. This is the second consecutive year Loma Linda University has won both a Tarrson Award and the Zwemer Award.

For more information on the awards, visit and type “Tarrson” or “Zwemer” in the search engine.