When patients started lining up at 1 a.m. in the morning to seek dental care at a Mission of Mercy free clinic in Parkersburg, W.V., this past weekend, Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine students and faculty had an eye-opening experience about the dental needs of people living in the Ohio River Valley.
The campus volunteers joined other volunteer professionals from the dental community and local colleges to help with the 1,400 patients in this rural West Virginia region.
These patients—from Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia—filled 65 chairs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., July 31 and August 1. The clinic was held at West Virginia University-Parkersburg campus and was sponsored by Muskingum Valley Dental Society, the West Virginia Academy of General Dentistry and the Blennerhassett Dental Society.
The request for dental school volunteers came from Parkersburg periodontist and university alumnus Richard Newhart ('83, Western Reserve; '86, Dental School).
He made a presentation to the students about MOM, part of the Mid Ohio Valley Health Department, and students signed up to volunteer to help.
Philip Aftoora, director of student services at the dental school, organized the trip. Faculty members Narayanan Sreenivasan, from oral surgery, accompanied the third- and fourth-year students and five resident doctors in advanced general dentistry program. Aftoora's wife Kathy also volunteered services as a receptionist.
The volunteers performed extractions, restorations and, in some cases, root canals.
"Not only are the students providing a valuable service to people who do not have access or cannot afford dental care," Aftoora said, "the students gain experience working with patients."
Volunteer services and service learning is an integral part of dental education at Case Western Reserve. Dental students have volunteer projects in the Dominican Republic and Guatemala. They also participate in the Healthy Smiles sealant program in the Cleveland schools and have rotation assignments at the Free Clinic on Euclid Avenue, where many also volunteer.
The MOM project recently followed a weekend of free dental care for Cleveland area residents who find themselves without dental insurance and lack funds to pay for dental visits. The dental school saw some 100 patients during MedWorks, July 25 and 26.
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