Driving oral health care forward in East Texas
Published: October 18, 2021 by UTHealth Development Communications
A sprawling labyrinth of piney woods and lush wetlands fills the countryside of East Texas. Stretching from Texarkana to Houston, people have called this region home for centuries, taking advantage of its natural wealth to put down roots in even the most isolated areas. Today, many of these rural communities face extreme barriers to health and wellness—barriers the T.L.L. Temple Foundation has been breaking down for decades.
“There are entire counties in East Texas that have no primary care providers, including physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and dentists,” says Wynn Rosser, PhD, President and CEO of the T.L.L. Temple Foundation. “If a resident needs care, they often have to travel to another county, or another state, to reach the services they need.”
Dedicated to building a thriving East Texas, the T.L.L. Temple Foundation’s origins lie deep within the 24 counties it serves. The foundation’s beginnings date back to Thomas Lewis Latané Temple, a pioneer industrialist who helped expand the lumber industry in East Texas during the late nineteenth century. His daughter, Georgie Temple Munz, established the foundation in his honor in 1962 to give back to the people who helped the family’s business succeed.
“Many people in East Texas face poverty and food insecurity,” Rosser says. “It is a challenge for communities to thrive, so the foundation is committed to increasing access to opportunity.”
Through philanthropy to initiatives in health, education, economics, human services, and arts and culture, the T.L.L. Temple Foundation is doing just that. From increasing the rural health care workforce to improving access to broadband internet, the foundation’s efforts are paving the way to a brighter future for the region.
Beginning in 2018, the foundation made a series of commitments to UTHealth School of Dentistry that continue this extraordinary legacy and help provide a new vehicle and operating expenses for the school’s longstanding Mobile Dental Van service in East Texas. As part of the Many Faces. One Mission. campaign, these commitments will provide vital resources that propel dental community outreach initiatives for years to come.
“Thanks to the T.L.L. Temple Foundation’s generosity, we will continue serving as a dependable source of oral health care for patients of all ages through the Mobile Dental Van, helping to reduce disparities in dental care and improve overall health,” says Margo Melchor, EdD, RDH, Associate Professor of Dental Hygiene and Director of Community Outreach at the School of Dentistry.
During its nearly 20 years of service, the school’s previous dental van provided thousands of dental procedures and logged more than 107,000 miles on the road in East Texas. Through partnerships with Orange Christian Services and Jasper Newton County Public Health District, the Mobile Dental Van offered free oral health care for people in the Orange and Jasper communities who would not be able to access or pay for it otherwise.
With the T.L.L. Temple Foundation’s support, the new van will have updated equipment and facilities to expand available services for vulnerable patients in rural East Texas. The van’s three dental operatories will make it possible to treat as many people as possible every day, and a wheelchair lift will ensure that everyone can access care, no matter their age or mobility concerns. New oral screening technologies and panoramic imaging will ensure that patients can be thoroughly evaluated for any signs of oral cancer and dental disease.
“Some of our counties are sparsely populated and cannot support a physical dental practice,” Rosser explains. “Having a mobile facility that provides oral health care on a scheduled, planned basis makes all the difference for people living in East Texas.”
The new van will also enhance educational opportunities for students at the School of Dentistry. Through the Mobile Dental Van program, students are able to participate in community outreach initiatives, helping underserved families access care while encouraging students to embrace a social responsibility to serve the public.
“By increasing student involvement, we hope to interest the next generation of oral health experts in serving rural communities like ours,” says Rosser.
The T.L.L. Temple Foundation’s commitment to the Mobile Dental Van builds on a partnership with UTHealth lasting more than three decades. With previous philanthropy to stroke research and The Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases, the foundation’s philanthropic vision continues to help communities across East Texas thrive.
The new Mobile Dental Van is slated to hit the road in 2022. Once it begins cruising down the tree-lined highways to East Texas, the T.L.L. Temple Foundation’s generous commitment will make a lasting difference—one smile at a time.