(DALLAS) — Children in Southeast Dallas soon will have a tremendous resource for their oral health care, thanks to funding support pledged to Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry by the Crystal Charity Ball.

The HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry and its community partners will receive $500,000 for the Southeast Oral Health Project, announced in February by the Dallas-based Crystal Charity Ball Committee.

The project’s goal is to essentially “adopt the community,” said Dr. Daniel Jones, professor and chair of public health sciences at HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry. The Southeast Oral Health Project is projected to improve the oral health of the community’s children with a comprehensive, four-pronged approach: screening, prevention, referral and treatment.

The project will start exactly where it can reach the most children: at school. Dentists and HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry students will annually visit schools in Pleasant Grove to provide oral health screenings, oral health education and oral hygiene kits to every student. It is estimated this alone will serve 10,000 children annually.

Second-graders will receive an invaluable preventive tool. Each student will receive free sealants, which can minimize tooth decay for several years, courtesy of HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry’s sealant program led by Dr. Stephen Crane, assistant professor in public health sciences, and staffed by D4 students.

Children who need additional care, an estimated 1,800 of them, will be referred for treatment at the new Southeast Dental Clinic, located within their own neighborhood at the existing Parkland Community Oriented Primary Care Center. It is this final component that will help meet the area’s tremendous need for a public dental clinic.

Dental decay is the most common chronic disease among children, and Dallas Independent School District officials say dental problems are the leading reason why children miss school. A child’s chances of existing dental problems, however, are tripled if the family has no dental insurance.

Currently, little or no options exist in Pleasant Grove for the uninsured to get dental treatment. In an area with no rapid transit and an average per capita income less than half the Dallas average, the barriers to accessing dental care can be insurmountable.

This acute need has been recognized before. The 2007 Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council report, “Our Community Health Checkup,” specifically recommends dental services for the uninsured in Southeast Dallas.

The Southeast Oral Health Project will unfold quickly to meet those needs. After the grant funding arrives in February 2010, the dental clinic is scheduled to open in September that same year.

The project represents a team effort. Dr. Jones, along with Dr. K. Vendrell Rankin, professor and associate chair in public health sciences, and Susan Mitchell Jackson, executive director of communications and institutional advancement, collaborated on the project proposal within HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry. The college pooled its resources with Community Dental Care, the Baylor Oral Health Foundation, Parkland Health and Hospital System, the City of Dallas, and the Dallas Independent School District to propose the project to the Crystal Charity Ball for funding.

The Crystal Charity Ball has raised funds to improve the lives of Dallas-area children since 1952. It has twice before funded HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry public health projects: the Dallas County Sealant Initiative in 1999 and the Vickery Meadow Children’s Oral Health Project in 2005.

“With the Southeast Oral Health Project, we’re building on lessons learned,” Dr. Jones said. “The Vickery Meadow project is a proven, sustainable model that we’ll use and improve in Pleasant Grove.”

Annually, the Southeast project will provide an estimated 16,000 dental appointments and interactions with children. Within two years, it will be completely self-sustaining.

— LaDawn Brock