‘Care’ has double meaning during Dental Mission Week
Published on Monday, February 7, 2022
By: Ruth Cummins, email@example.comHis wife Lakina stayed on him about it, but nevertheless, Leroy Hobson hadn’t gotten his teeth cleaned since 1976.
That changed the first of February, when the couple came to the School of Dentistry on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus. Leroy had an appointment for a teeth cleaning, and Lakina was to be evaluated for other dental procedures as part of the school’s annual Dental Mission Week.
“They need cleaning. I’m not going to lie,” said Leroy, a career roofer and Florence resident. Life got busy, he said, and a trip to the dentist simply took a back seat.
They are among about 500 Mississippians, many of them veterans, who received care ranging from routine cleaning to more complex work requiring return trips. An annual staple since 2017, Dental Mission Week is a joint effort involving volunteers from the schools of Dentistry, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Related Professions and Medicine, along with dental students and residents, dental hygiene students, and volunteer dentists and staff from local practices.
Also, 477 students at Jackson’s Pecan Park Elementary received oral hygiene products, including electric toothbrushes, when first-year dental students traveled Feb. 4 to the school’s campus. That endeavor was a scaled-down version of Give Kids A Smile, a traditional staple of Dental Mission week that before the pandemic brought hundreds of students to the School of Dentistry for teeth cleanings.
The goal is to provide much-needed dental care to underserved and uninsured adults and children. It especially takes in vulnerable populations, including veterans and the homeless.
Trimmed down this year to three days, Dental Mission Week has a second purpose that’s just as important as a patient’s oral health. Students learn how to become servant leaders in their communities, and they gain valuable hands-on experience, not just in dental procedures, but in making their patients feel welcome and comfortable.
“They show such love and care for people who can’t afford dentistry,” said Gwendolyn Johnson of Jackson, who was seen for a molar that was giving her pain. “It gives me joy to see people who are so kind and caring.”
Melody Longino, the school’s manager of ambulatory operations and Dental Mission Week coordinator, said those who work and learn in the School of Dentistry are genuine in their concern for patients.
“Dental Mission Week is just one way the SOD can express its compassion for life, love and humanity for others,” she said.
Services offered include extractions, cleanings, and fillings and root canals to the front teeth. Other issues are sometimes detected that can require follow-up, said Catherine Gatewood, a dental hygiene educator in the Department of Periodontics and Preventive Science.
She and dozens of faculty members and community dentists were on hand to guide first- through fourth-year dental students as they gave care to patients, beginning with check-in and continuing throughout their visit. First-year students walked patients from stop to stop. Second-year students took vital signs and temperatures, making sure patients were healthy for their procedures, and dental hygiene students provided teeth cleanings.
The care progressed to third- and fourth-year students performing extractions and more in-depth cleanings requiring localized anesthesia for patients with periodontal disease.
“They’ve worked so hard,” Gatewood said of all the students, but in particular fourth-year students who must pass “competencies” to show they have mastered certain procedures.
“This is their second to the last competency for their periodontal course, and sometimes, it’s hard to find the right patient for this one,” she said. “We’re glad to be able to do that this week. We don’t compromise any care. For every procedure these students do, they get evaluated.”
Also receiving services was Brookhaven resident and U.S. Army veteran Curtis Lamar Spencer Sr. His service spanned 1975-90, and his work as a maintenance mechanic took him to assignments in Germany and Georgia.
“I go to the VA for medical care, and I saw that all I have to do is fill out a form to get my teeth cleaned here,” Spencer said. “I normally try to take care of my hygiene. Everybody needs their teeth.”
As he walked into one of the school’s treatment clinics, he was greeted by fourth-year dental hygiene student Rachel Hill. “I’ll be doing your cleaning today,” she said, ushering him to the exam area and introducing him to third-year dental hygiene student Madeline Guest, who was to observe and learn.
“Are you feeling OK today?” Hill asked Spencer. “Do you have any sensitivity anywhere?”
She completed an initial exam, asking Spencer to roll his tongue onto the roof of his mouth so that she could get a closer look. “We’re going to try to get you signed up for some X-rays,” Hill told him.
Hobson also got plenty of attention from a group of dental students who not just took his blood pressure and temperature, but also screened him for oral cancer by searching for symptoms such as mouth ulcers or swelling in his neck.
Helping to oversee the screenings was Dr. Spencer Remley, a first-year oral surgery resident. “A lot of people will be more willing to go to their dentist than their primary care provider, so dentists often recognize oral cancer first,” he said. “Early detection is huge.”
“Are you in any pain?” second-year dental student Aubrey Holland asked Hobson. Then, the room erupted with good-natured laughter when she inadvertently asked him another screening question: “Are you pregnant?”
“Do you have any allergies? Are you taking medications for your blood pressure?” Holland asked. Hobson was cleared to walk to a treatment area to begin his teeth cleaning.
Lakina Hobson watched as her husband’s treatment progressed. “There’s a lot of learning going on,” she said.
Taking in the day were first-year dental students Denton Garvey and Logan Hadaway. They didn’t have direct patient care duties, but their learning was invaluable.
“D1 students are mainly in class and the lab, so getting to see patient interaction is important,” Hadaway said.
“It’s important to learn about service,” Garvey said. “Every day, we go out and serve our patients, and that’s an important quality to learn about dentistry.”
Longino couldn’t agree more.
“Dental Mission Week is not just an event. It’s food for the soul,” she said. “This event restores hope and faith that there is still kindness in the world.”