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Hundreds Get Free Dental Care at School of Dentistry’s Two-Day Event

Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 9:32am

Nearly 1,000 adults and 400 children got free dental care Feb. 7-8 at UT School of Dentistry at Houston, thanks to the Greater   Houston Dental Society, the Texas Dental Association Smiles Foundation and approximately 700 volunteers. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews.

Nearly 1,000 adults and 400 children got free dental care Feb. 7-8 at UT School of Dentistry at Houston, thanks to the Greater Houston Dental Society, the Texas Dental Association Smiles Foundation and approximately 700 volunteers. Photos by Dwight C. Andrews. 

Nearly 1,400 children and adults received free dental care Feb. 7-8 at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Dentistry, thanks to the combined efforts of the school, the Greater Houston Dental Society (GHDS) and the Texas Dental Association Smiles Foundation

Continuing a 10-year tradition, the school and GHDS jointly hosted “Give Kids a Smile” – a day of free dental care for Houston-area children.  But this year, the partners expanded the event to treat nearly 400 children over two days while simultaneously hosting a TDA Smiles Foundation-sponsored “Texas Mission of Mercy” that delivered free dental care to nearly 1,000 adults.

More than 700 volunteers participated, including general dentists, pediatric dentists, endodontists, oral surgeons, dental hygienists, dental assistants, current and future dental students, and the faculty, staff and students of UTHealth School of Dentistry. 

Major donors among the 35 overall who supported the Texas Mission of Mercy included UTHealth, Wells Fargo Foundation, GHDS, Dr. and Mrs. Leslie Fullerton, and The Waggoners Foundation. In Houston, Give Kids a Smile is funded by the Susman Family Foundation.

“There were challenges from the outset but we kept working together to put on the best event possible. I slept well knowing that so many patients received dental care that will improve the quality of their everyday lives,” said Tommy Harrison, DDS, Texas Mission of Mercy community chair for Houston. 

Dental professionals from throughout Texas joined UTHealth faculty, staff and students to provide two days of free dental care at UTHealth School of Dentistry.

Dental professionals from throughout Texas joined UTHealth faculty, staff and students to provide two days of free dental care at UTHealth School of Dentistry.

Many Texas Mission of Mercy patients were prescreened at the San Jose Clinic, Open Door Mission, TOMAGWA Health Care Ministries, the Star of Hope Women’s Shelter or by the Houston Asian American Dental Society.  Many people simply showed up after hearing about the event on the news or from a friend or relative among the prescreened patients.  

Give Kids a Smile patients were identified ahead of time through the San Jose Dental Clinic and Communities in Schools-Houston, and the School of Dentistry sent its Ronald McDonald Care Mobile to Berry, Buffalo Creek, Cedar Brook and Holmquist elementary schools to prescreen as many children as possible.

Most patients did not come alone, and it is estimated that at least 3,000 people passed through the School of Dentistry and the Denton A. Cooley, MD and Ralph C. Cooley, DDS University Life Center for the two-day events. Despite the cold weather, patients lined up long before dawn both days. University of Texas Police Department officers were onsite by 4:30 a.m. and positioned staff throughout both buildings to ensure safety. 

TDA Smiles Foundation holds Texas Mission of Mercy several times a year at different locations in the state. This was the first time a dental school has hosted the event.

Give Kids a Smile Day is an annual, nationwide event launched by the American Dental Association in 2003. UTHealth School of Dentistry and GHDS sponsor it locally each year in February in observation of National Children’s Dental Health Month.

Dean John A. Valenza, DDS, said the idea to combine events dates back a couple of years and began when the TDA Smiles Foundation Board expressed interest in sponsoring a Texas Mission of Mercy in Houston. Holding both events together at the spacious new School of Dentistry made sense.

Nearly 18 months of pre-planning went into organizing the dual events. School of Dentistry Community Outreach Director Margo Melchor, RDH, MEd, led the local committee that planned and executed both events.  Give Kids a Smile Co-Chairs were Laji James, DDS, and Joanna Allaire, RDH, MDH.  Greg Oelfke, DDS, and Rita Cammarata, DDS, served as dental co-chairs for the Texas Mission of Mercy, and Tommy Harrison, DDS, served as community chair.

Congressman Randy Weber of the U.S. 14th District visited the School of Dentistry to see the events unfolding, as did State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, accompanied by staff member Isabel Longoria.
  Rachael Rodriguez of U.S. Rep. Al Green’s staff presented the School of Dentistry and TDA Smiles Foundation with certificates of special congressional recognition for providing free dental care in the 9th Congressional District.

Other legislators dispatched staff members to the events:  Jessica Schleifer and Vanessa Pollard for State Sen. Rodney Ellis; Catherine Dunn for State Rep. Sarah Davis; and Mary Larakers for State Rep. Jessica Farrar.