Meeting Texas’ dental care needs, today and tomorrow
As one of only three dental schools in the state, the Texas A&M College of Dentistry has an important role in educating dentists to serve the needs of Texans in the future, researching better treatments and providing excellent dental care today, as the largest oral health care provider in North Texas.
“We hear from grateful patients all the time who were able to receive care that restored their lifestyle,” said Stephen J. Griffin, DDS, associate dean for clinical affairs. “They are a vital part of the educational process, and we try to express to them how important they are.”
The college has 15 clinics that provide advanced care for patients with complex cases. Many of these people have been referred by their own dentist and come from all over Texas and beyond. “We have every residency program, so every specialty is represented, and it is full service,” Griffin added. “We’re one of only two schools that offer all nine dental specialties, and we get people from everywhere.”
The college, which is located in an area considered dentally underserved by the Health Resources and Services Administration, also treats low-income and underserved patients at its Urgent Care Clinic. Important, given that more than 47 million Americans, including 5 million Texans, live in such dentally underserved areas, according to 2014 numbers, and of those individuals, more than 1.5 million did not receive dental services that year.
“The Urgent Care Clinic provides quality care at a discounted rate, 50 to 70 percent less than you’d pay in a private dental office,” Griffin said. “Many of these people are receiving care—whether a routine oral screening or a tooth extraction—that they would not have been able to get otherwise.”
Far beyond the care provided within the college itself, which totals about 103,000 visits annually, College of Dentistry students and faculty go out into the community to provide care.
Each Texas A&M dental student spends, on average, 22 days per year providing dental care in the community. Third-year dental students plan and conduct two educational presentations around the Dallas/Fort Worth area at elementary schools, community colleges, nursing homes, senior citizen centers or similar sites. One site in particular, the Agape Clinic, gives students the chance to work alongside their medical and mental health colleagues. Students also provide more than 2,500 students at 75 Dallas Independent School District elementary schools with sealants on their teeth as part of the college’s Sealant Initiative.
“It’s important to teach young kids good dental habits,” Griffin said. “If you educate children and parents, you can impact oral health for years.”
Fourth-year students provide oral health screening and treatments—from extractions and fillings to simple cleanings—at a number of community clinics that care for the underserved and homeless communities in the area, including Dallas suburbs of Cleburne, Irving and Arlington. They also treat nearly 30,000 people per year at community events such as health fairs.
“I feel fortunate to attend a dental school that is so good at plugging their students into the community,” said Keith H. Mahipala, a fourth-year dental student. “It’s a great experience for us and a way to give back to the underserved areas, both locally and abroad. We receive patients from all over, many of whom do not have dental insurance or don’t have a regular dental home. They have always been so appreciative of our work, which keeps me wanting to do more.”
Faculty and students from the college provide care even beyond the United States’ borders, especially in underserved countries. “We really do try to focus on the people,” Griffin said. “Students embark on global mission trips to provide dental care, which is such an important part of overall health.”
“The dental college’s location in a dentally underserved area means our people are able to provide a tremendous service to our community as well as our neighbors in other areas,” said Lawrence Wolinsky, PhD, DMD, College of Dentistry dean. “Compassionate care is at the heart of what we do in educating excellent dental clinicians. We are privileged to use our specialized skills and expertise to make an enduring difference that reaches beyond our walls.”