For kids living in rural areas of Polk County, access to dental care can be difficult both financially and logistically.
But thanks to a partnership between the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith and a health clinic in Mena, students are able to get preventive work while also providing practical experience for UAFS students.
Karissa Gregory of Alma, Channing Harris of Van Buren, Lisa Newton of Mountainburg and Kelsey Simms of Fort Smith -- students in the university’s dental hygiene program in the College of Health Sciences -- traveled to the Healthy Connections medical clinic in Mena twice in February to place dental sealants on more than 80 area youths bussed in from local public schools.
“A lot of the kids that come to Healthy Connections have limited access to dental care,” said Pam Davidson, executive director of the dental hygiene program at UAFS. “Not only do they get a great service by having sealants installed, our students provide them with positive role models for dental health.”
Sealants are treatments helping to prevent tooth decay, and UAFS students have traveled to Healthy Connections to treat patients for approximately 15 years according to Doreen Tapley, director of outreach at Healthy Connections.
With only two dental hygienists working at the clinic, hosting UAFS students allows them to triple the amount of children they’re able to help.
“Without the UAFS students coming, we wouldn’t be able to help nearly as many students,” Tapley said. “We always have the largest number of students come in on days that UAFS can bring students to help.”
The experience also helps prepare UAFS students for careers as dental hygienists.
“Working with kids teaches you how to talk to people, and it helps me to be able to interact with different types of patients,” Simms said. “Whether they’re young or old, it teaches you the tools to modify your treatment based on your patient’s needs.”
The two visits by UAFS students coincided with Dental Health Awareness Month, providing the clinic an opportunity to further educate students on taking care of their teeth.
“I’m hoping we’ve raised awareness throughout the years,” Tapley said. “We’re not seeing the problems we saw 10 years ago, and help from university students has played a big role in that.”
“We had a couple of kids who said they were afraid of having sealants put on. And afterwards they were saying, ‘That wasn’t so bad,’” Tapley added. “The kids always have a positive experience, and that’s what we want.”