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Tennessee State University dental hygiene student Cindy House, left, and Vanderbilt medical student Lara Hershcovitch, right, work with patient Daniella Zubueta during Dental Hygiene Day. (photo by Joe Baker)

Students brighten smiles at dental day

BY: BRENT MCNEW

3/06/2009 - The Vanderbilt medical student-run Shade Tree Clinic expanded its mission of providing free health care to Nashville's underserved communities by coordinating its first Dental Hygiene Day at Tennessee State University recently.

Students from TSU's School of Dental Hygiene, Meharry Medical College's School of Dentistry and Vanderbilt School of Medicine co-sponsored the event, aimed at addressing the urgent dental needs of children at the clinic.

During Dental Day, TSU dental hygiene students offered Shade Tree pediatric patients a free dental cleaning and necessary sealants. Children requiring care beyond dental hygiene received a referral to Meharry's School of Dentistry.

Children and their parents also were given a free dental care package to help them succeed in preventative dental health.

Dental Day brought together TSU, Meharry Medical Colleges School of Dentistry and VUSM. From left, VUSMs Lara Hershcovitch, with TSUs Rosalyn Word, Carolyn Johnson, Jillian Ross and Marion Patton, M.D. (photo by Joe Baker)

Dental Day brought together TSU, Meharry Medical Colleges School of Dentistry and VUSM. From left, VUSMs Lara Hershcovitch, with TSUs Rosalyn Word, Carolyn Johnson, Jillian Ross and Marion Patton, M.D. (photo by Joe Baker)

According to Rebecca Cook, second-year Vanderbilt medical student and Shade Tree dental director, Dental Day is part of the clinic's larger Partnerships in Dental Health program.

This program seeks to prevent the development of oral disease through education and proactive dental hygiene care.

Cook and other Shade Tree medical students had noticed a great need for dental care among their patients.

With the help of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Student Alliance, the Shade Tree Clinic received a $5,000 grant from the American Dental Association Foundation's Samuel Harris Fund and a $1,500 grant from the Alpha Omega Alpha to fund Dental Day and other dental programs in the clinic.

“We realized that we needed to branch out to academic and community partners to help address unmet dental needs,” Cook said. “The Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance facilitated a meeting, initially with Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry and later with TSU School of Dental Hygiene, and we forged the Partnerships in Dental Health program.”

Robert Miller, M.D., acting medical director for Shade Tree, said that underserved communities face more barriers to dental care than almost any other health condition.

“There is a limited dental safety net in our community for acute care,” Miller continued. “There are clinics which provide reduced fees for services, but these services are limited. “The patients seen on Dental Day have had very little access to any dental care. Programs like this identify problems early and potentially prevent more serious dental decay down the road.”

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