Did you know that most Americans do not seek routine dental care because of financial, cultural, or even physical challenges, such as lack of transportation or lack of access to a local dentist in their hometown? As a result, dental diseases disproportionately affect some of our most vulnerable populations, namely the poor and the elderly. The Community Outreach Program through the Office of Patient Care at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Dentistry is improving oral health care in these under-served populations through the use of an adult dental van that they use to bring vital dental services to communities in need.
St. Luke’s Episcopal Health Charities spearheaded this initiative with its gracious donation of the adult dental van to UTHealth School of Dentistry in 2002. Since its inaugural trip, the Community Outreach Program has logged over 107,000 miles to provide thousands of free treatments to patients in rural communities in East Texas and the Greater Houston area. During the 2019-2020 academic year, the adult dental van team completed more than 3,000 treatments at no cost to nearly 400 patients. With the help of community partners, services such as screenings, oral health education, and preventive and restorative dentistry are now accessible to those who have limited access to care.
The adult dental van also provides a unique and rewarding educational opportunity for School of Dentistry students. As part of the community service learning portion of the clinical curriculum, fourth-year dental students are assigned to a three-week rotation on the adult dental van where they receive hands-on learning experience while being instilled with a strong sense of community service and social responsibility. This "learning-through-community-service opportunity" allows students to learn from the various treatments they provide while giving back to their community, an important mission at the School of Dentistry.
Many miles have been logged and many smiles have been improved since 2002, but the time has now come to replace the adult dental van. A new dental van will allow the Community Outreach Program to deliver exceptional care and educational opportunities in a state-of-the-art setting. For years, this program has given back to the community to improve the oral health care of our most vulnerable populations, and in order to continue doing this important work, they now look to their community for help. Your gift toward the replacement of the adult dental van will support their efforts for years to come and have a lasting impact on the rural communities of East Texas and the Greater Houston area.
For the sake of healthier communities across Texas, we appreciate your support of this important initiative!