Last fall, the College of Dental Medicine received a $58,000 grant from the Dr. John. T. Macdonald Foundation Inc.
The grant allows the North Miami Beach dental clinic to provide free dental care to hundreds of underprivileged elementary school children each week.
This is the fourth year the university has received this grant.
“Everyone benefits from this program,” said Lisa Garcia-Heintskill, R.D.H., D.H.S., project coordinator.
Through the program, the children receive preventive oral health care services by pre-doctoral dental students. Services include dental cleaning, x-rays, polishing and dental sealants. If follow-up care is needed, Heintskill sends a letter to the parents informing them that follow-up care is needed by a family dentist.
“When dental decay is left untreated, it can affect the child’s performance in school and the child may have difficulty in eating, chewing and swallowing,” said Heintskill.
For the dental students, this program provides an opportunity to work with children. Vianca Cabrera, fourth-year dental student, who participated in the program during her second year, said the children were the first patients she’s treated.
Heintskill said the majority of the children are minorities and some of them have never been to a dentist before or owned a toothbrush.
Cabrera said, “We got to give them their first impression about what going to the dentist is like.”
The clinic is exclusively dedicated to the children on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Heintskill said that during that time, dental students examine about 20 children per session.
Karen Zagar, fourth-year dental student, said the experience was rewarding.
“It was nice to see kids who can’t get treatment and give them something they wouldn’t get otherwise,” she said.
However, Heintskill said most of the dental diseases that affect children’s dental health can be prevented. She said people should take children to get their teeth checked after the child turns one.
“Even a limited exam could prevent early childhood caries,” she said.
NSU partnered with the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine for this program. The patients, who are all second graders, are picked up in buses from Fulford Elementary, Greynolds Park Elementary and Sabal Palm Elementary, which were chosen by the Macdonald Foundation. Heintskill said there are plans to expand this model throughout the state.