By Lauren Gaffney
Shortly after he graduated from high school, Michael Layton embarked on a two-year journey to Romania and Moldova as a Latter Day Saints Missionary, an experience that turned out to play a huge role in molding his future. While in Romania, Mr. Layton learned the language, which helped him interact effectively with and understand the challenges faced by Romanians. It was this that helped him develop, he says, a “desire to care for the poor and underserved.”
It is now September 2005, and Mr. Layton is a member of the University of Washington School of Dentistry Class of ’07, where he is actively working to help improve the oral health of Romanians. At UW, he approached Dr. Christine Riedy, a research assistant professor, about her work with Ethnodent, a web-based tool to assist faculty, students, and residents in developing culturally sensitive approaches to providing oral health care to different ethnic groups, and asked if she would consider studying Romanians. Dr. Riedy and Mr. Layton worked together to study the differences in oral health beliefs of immigrated and non-immigrated Romanians. Testing conducted in Seattle, Washington, Vancouver, British Columbia, and Arad, Romania showed areas where non-immigrated Romanians differed from their North America-residing counterparts. Armed with this information, Mr. Layton is more determined than ever to help Romanians, saying, “I’m certain that we can implement certain public health measures in this country to help their situation.” His passion for community work does not end with helping Romanians. As a dental student, Mr. Layton has participated in community programs to help the underserved, provide mouth guards for middle and high school athletes, and deliver anti-tobacco lectures at a local elementary school. “I love how many opportunities we are given to excel while in school,” Mr. Layton said about his community work.
Who knew that life as a dental student could provide myriad occasions to indulge interests like travel, community service, language training, and singing? Mr. Layton is one of many whose personal passion has become the basis for some of his greatest efforts while in dental school. Though dental students are undoubtedly busy, many of them cherish the creative and educational ways they have been able to expand and enhance their professional and personal lives while in school. From innovative programs that provide dental care to underserved populations to co-curricular activities that help provide some fun, dental students across the country are using their talents to the best of their abilities.
Out in the Trenches:
Bringing Oral Health Care to the People
While many students would be loath to give up sleeping in on a Saturday or Sunday morning, dental students at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) hit the Barnyard Flea Market in Augusta, Georgia, every weekend. While most market booths sell vintage clothing, jewelry, music, and antiques, their booth offers dental exams—at no cost. In addition, the student volunteers assist patients in finding a local dentist, provide oral health care information, and refer those with treatment needs to the School of Dentistry or a private practitioner.
The idea arose when Dr. James Barenie, an MCG faculty member, was shopping in the market and, noting the diversity and size of the crowd (5,000-10,000 per weekend), thought it would be a wonderful location for a clinic. Such a clinic would allow MCG dental students to gain experience with a diverse patient population as well as supplement their usual clinical education. After the manager of the flea market offered to let MCG use a booth free of charge, the first exam was conducted in March 2005. Students see patients every Saturday and Sunday. One member of each class and a faculty member perform exams and talk with patients about oral health care. The program has been a great success and recently received a $50,000 grant from GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare and the ADA Foundation to provide treatment to underserved elderly patients.
In recent years, there has been a great push in dental education to promote access to care for all and teach the importance of community outreach. For the past two summers, dental hygiene students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City provided dental care to rural and underserved areas of Missouri at Federally Qualified Health Centers. These students were able to gain experience working in a clinic setting as well as interact with a diverse patient population while providing care. Students also provided community education programs to day care centers, summer camps, adult education seminars, and senior groups. One participating student said of her experience, “I finally understood what public health is.” This program helps highlight the need for increased dental care for underserved populations, and many who participate show an increased interest in working in dental public health.
Students at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry participated in a similar program to provide care in community facilities. The program was developed to help students become more culturally sensitive, and many reported that their views on providing care in rural and urban areas and to special needs patients were greatly altered by the experience. In one clinic, students saw a new patient every 15 minutes; patients were lined up on the building’s steps all day in hopes of seeing a dentist. This clinic, located in a rural area, showed one student “that rural need is just as big as urban need.” She added that the experience “really opened my eyes to what’s really out there.” In its first year, the program was very successful with students, who believe it helped teach them compassion. They have recommended that the university continue recruiting students to bring this much needed care to neighboring communities.
While many do not receive adequate oral health care at a young age, it is never too early to begin taking care of your smile! That is the thinking behind the University of Washing-ton’s Husky Smiles program. Founded in 1999, the program provides oral hygiene instruction, dental screenings, fluoride treatments, and referrals for high-risk underserved children and their families. Dental students attend health fairs and community gatherings, providing service and care to those in need. For many first- and second-year students, participation in this program provides some of their first patient interaction and opportunity to provide treatment.
Even Miss Universe knows the importance of oral health care. This year former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres, a native Puerto Rican, was part of Give Kids a Smile Day in Puerto Rico. At this community event, University of Puerto Rico School of Dentistry students provide oral health care to children in dental clinics across the island. The event, sponsored by UPR, the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, the American Dental Association, and the Association of Dental Surgeons, provided children with oral health examinations and education materials and provided care at various types of health centers, including the Psycho-Pedagogic Institute, which serves children with special needs.