Dedicating one’s life to serving others
doesn’t always come with a full benefits package—medical, dental, life and paid
vacation. That’s why Melissa Smith and her husband, Joshua, were thrilled to
hear that free dental care would be available to them at the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Dentistry’s
(UMMC SOD) inaugural Dental Mission Week.
During the week of Feb. 6−10, the school
shut down normal operations and opened its doors to Mississippi’s underserved
community. Patients from the metro area and as far away as Pascagoula and
Greenwood arrived well before the doors opened Monday morning to receive much-needed
The goal was to provide dental care to 800
adult patients from Monday through Thursday. By the end of the week, 922 adults
had been seen in the clinic. Twenty-two patients received full upper and lower
dentures. An additional 376 elementary school children from the Jackson Public
School District were seen on Friday for Give Kids a Smile Day.
Ms. Smith, a Jackson, MS, transplant from
California, had not visited a dentist since she quit her desk job about five
years ago to become a missionary. Her husband, Joshua, who grew up in Star,
doesn’t remember the last time he saw a dentist, if ever.
When the school dropped off patient packets
at the ministry, the Smiths jumped at the opportunity to receive dental care. “I
think this is amazing that you would reach out to the community like this. We
don’t have regular health care because we don’t have a steady income,” says Ms.
The Smiths are not alone in their reasons
for skipping the recommended twice-yearly visits to a dentist. According to an
American Dental Association survey, more than half of Mississippians who
responded they had not seen a dentist in the last 12 months gave cost as the
main reason for neglecting dental care.
Having good oral health isn’t just about
one’s appearance. People who have poor oral health tend to choose unhealthy
foods over fresh fruits and vegetables at the expense of their overall health. Research suggests there
also may be a connection between oral health and cardiovascular disease.
Dental Mission Week was born from the
students’ desire to serve the community, says David A. Felton, D.D.S., M.S., Dean
and Professor of Care Planning and Restorative Sciences at UMMC SOD.
“My thought was, if we are going to teach
our students about service, let’s actually provide some service,” says Dr.
Marla Martin, Director of Clinical Operations,
led the organization of the event, which included the Schools of Nursing,
Pharmacy and Health Related Professions.
Dental faculty assessed patients in dental
triage to determine their chief complaints. Patients were then given radiographs
and assigned to a clinic based on treatment need—extractions, restorations,
root canals or periodontal treatments.
The Mississippi Dental Association (MDA) helped
recruit practicing dentists to donate time or money to the week’s events.
Fourteen local dentists participated in patient care.
“MDA supports Dental Mission Week because
it is reaching a group of people who are not currently getting dental services,”
says Mark Williams, D.M.D., MDA President. “There is a big need out there. We
are glad to see the dental school pursue this project that will benefit the
public by both providing care and also increasing the awareness of the need for
Considering the success of the event and
the level of need in the state, the school is already thinking ahead to next
Courtesy of Alana Bowman,
APR, Editor/Writer, University of Mississippi Medical Center Division of Public
Published on March 8, 2017.