Volunteers care for children at fair

August 22, 2008

(DALLAS) – Seventy Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry volunteers cared for more than 800 children at the 12th annual Dallas Mayor’s “Back-to-School” Fair Aug. 7 at Fair Park.

HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry was one of more than 60 booths at the fair, which was free for Dallas school children who come from low-income families. Most families pre-registered for the fair, and if they visited four categories of service providers such as HSC-BCD during the event, they received free school supplies.

The HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry booth offered mini-screenings for students and applied fluoride varnish to their teeth. More than 3,000 fluoride packets were donated by Premier for the event, said Richard Cardenas, public health sciences administrative coordinator and event organizer for HSC-BCD.

Fifteen minutes after the fair’s kickoff at 8 a.m., the HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry booth was filled with patients. At her station, Elain Benton, public health sciences instructor, saw two patients at once – 2-year-old Chrissy and her mom, Kissy, who is expecting another child any day.

“Today is awesome,” Benton says. “You can tell that all of the patients are appreciative. (The event) makes you realize how important education is, especially for parents. If parents don’t understand why dental care is important, then they won’t emphasize it to their children. If children have cavities and teeth that hurt, this affects their ability to pay attention in class, their ability to learn; it’s extremely important.”

Benton’s station was one of more than 20 at the HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry booth, which was staffed by dental and dental hygiene students, pediatric dentistry residents, faculty members and staff. The chair and vice chair of public health sciences, Drs. Daniel Jones and K. Vendrell-Rankin, and dental hygiene chair Dr. Janice DeWald ensured the stations ran efficiently. Faculty volunteers included Benton, Drs. Anneta Bitouni, Stephen Crane and Patricia Skur from public health sciences, Lisa Harper Mallonee from dental hygiene, and Dr. David Hale from pediatric dentistry. HSC-BCD staff members registered patients and directed them to open stations.

A key group of volunteers was Spanish translators, who conveyed to parents what was seen during the child’s mini-screening.

“Over the last four years, explaining children’s dental needs and how to access dental care to non-English speaking parents has presented a challenge,” Dr. Rankin says. “We serve a large Hispanic community at this event, so the translators are extremely helpful.”

That exact scenario unfolded as Dr. Crane examined a 5-year-old boy. Dr. Crane told Dr. Skur his patient had two cavities; Dr. Skur translated this to the mother and encouraged the family to visit a community dental clinic.

When the family was finished, they received a validation sticker required to get the free school supplies, along with a referral list of community clinics.

“Out of 50,000 people in attendance, there were certainly many more children we could’ve seen, but with the space we had, our booth ran very efficiently,” Dr. Jones says. “We’ve done this long enough now that we’ve learned to maximize our efficiency. Our goal next year is to ask the city for a larger space so that we can serve more people.

“Aside from the immunizations, we’re the only booth at the fair that performs a service that immediately benefits the student,” Dr. Jones continued. “The fluoride varnish we apply will prevent cavities for the next six months and possibly even help remineralize teeth, allowing them to repair themselves.”

Dr. Rankin said, “What strikes me about today is the children’s unquestioning cooperation, particularly the very young ones, many of whom are seeing a dentist or dental hygienist for the first time. Very few are scared; we have very few criers. They trust you completely, and that’s a great feeling.”

The Texas A&M Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its seven colleges located in communities throughout Texas are the Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas, the College of Medicine in College Station and Temple, the College of Nursing in College Station, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology in Houston, the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy in Kingsville, and the School of Rural Public Health in College Station.

— Marketing & Communications