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$840,000 in Free Care at Give Kids a Smile, Mission of Mercy

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 4:35pm

Nearly 700 volunteers worked together to deliver two days of free dental care in February at The University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews.

Nearly 700 volunteers worked together to deliver two days of free dental care in February at The University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston. See more photos in our TMOM/GKAS Album.

Final tallies for the combined Texas Mission of Mercy and Give Kids a Smile events at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Dentistry in February show that 1,292 patients received free dental care worth an estimated $840,000, thanks to more than 700 volunteers and 35 sponsors. More photos are available in our TMOM/GKAS Album

The School of Dentistry and the Greater Houston Dental Society are 10-year partners in hosting Give Kids a Smile — an annual day of free dental care for children from low-income families. Inviting the Texas Dental Association Smiles Foundation to conduct a Texas Mission of Mercy (TMOM) at the same time and venue meant that this year, adults could also get free care.

TDA Smiles Foundation holds Texas Mission of Mercy events several times a year at different locations around the state, but this was their first time to hold the event in a dental school, rather than a public venue turned field clinic.  That may have contributed to the near-record numbers of endodontic and oral surgery procedures that were done, said Dean John A. Valenza, DDS. 

The participating volunteers came from all parts of Texas and included general dentists, pediatric dentists, endodontists, oral surgeons, dental hygienists, dental assistants, current and future dental students, and the faculty, staff and students of the School of Dentistry. 

Dr. Andre Singleton of El Paso discusses treatment with Brandon Bochantin of Houston. Also pictured are UTSD student Thu Tran and Isela Mendoza, CTL (far left), of El Paso.

Dr. Andre Singleton of El Paso discusses treatment with Brandon Bochantin of Houston. Also pictured are UTSD student Thu Tran and Isela Mendoza, CTL (far left), of El Paso. Photo by Rhonda Whitmeyer.

Staging such a massive event required considerable behind-the-scenes planning and work. Educational Support Services Manager Jonathan Green said the school’s Clinical Information Technology and Web Team set up extra servers, installed and tested new software and created files in advance for patients who were prescreened offsite, loading their records and images into the system.

Handpieces previously issued to students were collected, used for the events, sterilized, repacked and returned to students Monday morning. 

Clinical Services Director Mary Ann Adkisson, RN, MS, said supplies ordered for the big charity weekend were delayed by winter weather in the northeastern U.S. “Fortunately, UPS came through for us and delivered on a Saturday,” she said. 

Associate Dean for Patient Care Bob Cederberg, DDS, said it was the first Texas Mission of Mercy that used digital radiographs. Inga Lill-Leon, LMRT, assistant chief radiographic technologist, confirmed that her staff did 184 panoramic X-rays, rather than the 20 or so they expected.

The radiology team also worked in triage doing X-rays for Mission of Mercy patients, but got help for Give Kids a Smile patients from approximately 20 dental and dental hygiene students who had been trained to scan radiographs into the electronic health record system. Systems and Applications Specialist II Brittany Bock taught the students what to do, as part of advance preparations for the combined events.

The School of Dentistry’s housekeeping staff worked long hours throughout the weekend making sure facilities were ready by 5 a.m. each day.

Most patients did not come alone, and it is estimated that at least 3,000 people passed through the School of Dentistry and the Denton A. Cooley, MD and Ralph C. Cooley, DDS University Life Center for the two-day events. Despite the cold weather, patients lined up long before dawn both days. University of Texas Police Department officers were onsite by 4:30 a.m. and positioned staff throughout both buildings to ensure safety. 

“We’re glad it’s over, but everyone had a very positive feeling about it,” Adkisson said. “Some of the patients said they hadn’t seen a dentist in 20 years.”

Major donors among the 35 overall who supported the Texas Mission of Mercy included UTHealth, Wells Fargo Foundation, GHDS, Dr. and Mrs. Les Fullerton, and The Waggoners Foundation. In Houston, Give Kids a Smile is funded by the Susman Family Foundation.

The School of Dentistry prescreened many Texas Mission of Mercy patients at the San Jose Clinic and the Star of Hope Misson. Volunteers from the Greater Houston Dental Association and the Houston Asian American Dental Society prescreened patients at other locations, such as the Open Door Mission, TOMAGWA Health Care Ministries and the Star of Hope Women’s Shelter. 

Give Kids a Smile patients were identified ahead of time through the San Jose Dental Clinic and Communities in Schools-Houston, and the School of Dentistry sent its Ronald McDonald Care Mobile to Berry, Buffalo Creek, Cedar Brook and Holmquist elementary schools to prescreen as many children as possible.

Give Kids a Smile Day is an annual, nationwide event launched by the American Dental Association in 2003. The Greater Houston Dental Society and the School of Dentistry co-sponsor it annually in observation of National Children’s Dental Health Month.

Margo Melchor, RDH, MEd, community outreach director at the School of Dentistry, led the local committee that planned and executed both events. Give Kids a Smile Co-Chairs were Laji James, DDS, and Joanna Allaire, RDH.  Greg Oelfke, DDS, and Rita Cammarata, DDS, served as dental co-chairs for the Texas Mission of Mercy, and Tommy Harrison, DDS, served as community chair.

Congressman Randy Weber of the U.S. 14th District visited the School of Dentistry to see the events unfolding, as did State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, accompanied by staff member Isabel Longoria.  Rachael Rodriguez of U.S. Rep. Al Green’s staff presented the School of Dentistry and TDA Smiles Foundation with certificates of special congressional recognition for providing free dental care in the 9th Congressional District.

Other legislators dispatched staff members to the events:  Jessica Schleifer and Vanessa Pollard for State Sen. Rodney Ellis; Catherine Dunn for State Rep. Sarah Davis; and Mary Larakers for State Rep. Jessica Farrar.