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In Mississippi, Dental Mission Week treats nearly 2,000 underserved residents

February 26, 2018

By Kimber Solana

Photo of volunteers treating a child at GKAS event
Open wide: Pediatric resident Anna Nix, left, coaches Jamarion Ricks, a Johnson Elementary School student, to open his mouth wide during an exam while Burke Ellzey, a second-year dental student, assists during a Feb. 5 Give Kids A Smile program at the University of Mississippi dental school, part of the university's Dental Mission Week.
Jackson, Miss. — From elementary students to military veterans, nearly 2,000 Mississippi residents walked through the halls of the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry during its Dental Mission Week with one goal: receive much-needed free dental care.
The six-day event, held Feb. 5-10, also provided an opportunity for dental students to treat patients they may not normally see in their practices after dental school.
"It's a win-win situation," said Dr. David Felton, dental school dean and professor of care planning and restorative dentistry sciences. "While the patients benefitted greatly, our students got to see, first hand, how giving back to those less fortunate can have a dramatic impact on someone's life."
In all, dental students, staff, faculty and volunteers saw 1,826 patients who received 4,135 dental procedures worth an estimated $1.05 million in donated care during the event's second year.

Dental Mission Week began in 2017, about a year after Dr. Felton became dean of the dental school. In previous years, he said, the school's dental clinic would shut down for a week dedicated to service learning.
However, during this serving learning week, first- and second-year students mainly attended lectures, while third- and fourth-year students visited schools to "observe or provide dental education," Dr. Felton said.
Instead of continuing to do that, the school, in 2017, decided to use that week to invite underserved patients and provide free dental care.
Dr. Felton said the program receives generous donations from dental supply companies and financial contributions from clinics and individuals. Others, he added, donate food to feed the volunteers. Dental Mission Week is a joint effort involving volunteers from the schools of dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, health-related professions and medicine, as well as staff from local private dental practices.
Photo of a volunteer posing with a veteran after treatment at a GKAS event
All smiles: Dental assistant Donna Edwards and Curtis Porter, U.S. Army veteran, are all smiles after his dental visit at the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry during its Dental Mission Week, held Feb. 5-10.
The 2017 event, he said, was deemed a big success. This year, the number of patients served nearly doubled from the inaugural event.

The week jumpstarted on Feb. 5 with a Give Kids A Smile program where more than 500 students from three local elementary schools and an after school program received free dental care, including cleanings, fluoride treatments and sealants — valued at $117,465. Students and volunteers treated about 50 of those students, who had more significant dental needs, later that week.

On Feb. 8, the school teamed with the G.V. Montgomery VA Medical Center to provide care for 265 military veterans.

Many of the other patients who came to Dental Mission Week heard about the event through word of mouth.

According to Connie Lane, Mississippi Dental Association executive director, 21 percent of the state's population live below poverty line with 34 percent of children living in poverty.

"Those percentages are staggering and that is why any free dental care provision in Mississippi is important and noteworthy," she said. "Even though we all understand that charity is not an effective health care delivery system, it is also important for our oral care providers to know that our state has a significant impoverished population."

Ms. Lane, who attended last year's event, said she was impressed with the school's work and the energy level of the volunteers.

"Even with long lines, long days and tough care decisions that are made with every patient in significant need, the spirits and enthusiasm of our volunteers is a high level," she said. "Smiles, hugs and even tears of joy are part of the mix as well from those who receive the care."

Days after the event, Dr. Felton received a letter from a military veteran from Lauderdale, Mississippi, thanking two dental students for taking care of an infected molar tooth.

"In all my 50 something years of dental work, I have never experienced such great care and concern in pulling a difficult tooth," the patient wrote in the letter.
The letter was among about a dozen notes and letters Dr. Felton said he received from patients to thank the school, students and volunteers.

"This was a huge undertaking for the school and our colleagues, but it was a win-win effort for all," he said. "We're already working on planning for the 2019 Dental Mission Week activities and hope to continue this effort for many years to come."