University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill dental students are traveling to Rocky Mount today (March 7) and Saturday (March 8) to take part in what is expected to be the state’s largest free dental clinic ever staged for underserved patients.
The North Carolina Dental Society is organizing the effort – called “Dental Access Days,” or DAD – and organizers estimate that more than 1,000 patients could be seen and treated during the two-day event. As many as 100 North Carolina Dental Society volunteer dentists and 200 additional volunteers from across the state will staff the clinic.
“DAD is an offshoot of other free clinics in the state called ‘Missions of Mercy,’ which have been held for several years now,” said Dr. Alec Parker, the dental society’s executive director and a retired Asheville dentist. “The MOM program treats as many as 300 patients during a weekend. The DAD project will handle more than three times that number.”
UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduates also are among the state’s pre-dental students who also will participate in the clinic. They will assist in event set-up and oral hygiene education, among other activities.
An estimated 20-plus UNC-Chapel Hill dental students will provide a range of dental services, depending on their level of dental education; these services include oral hygiene education, dental cleanings, dental fillings and extractions. For this clinic, the School of Dentistry administration granted clinic attendance credit for students who would normally be in the school’s clinic all day Friday.
“The involvement of our DDS students underscores the importance of what it means to be a professional,” said Dr. John N. Williams, dean of the School of Dentistry. “By working side-by-side with other volunteers, our students will gain important insight into their own professional identity of how, as dentists, they might give back to society.”
Both Williams and Dr. Douglas Solow, associate dean for clinical affairs, are serving as volunteers for the Friday event.
The two-day Rocky Mount event is the first of what is hoped to be several such dental society-sponsored clinics statewide each year, organizers said.
The Friday and Saturday dental clinic will be held in a 35,000-square-foot vacant supermarket building in Englewood Square Shopping Center, located at the corner of Sunset Avenue and Circle Drive, in Rocky Mount. Adult patients will be seen from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both days on a first-come, first-served basis. To be eligible for treatment, patients must be at least 18 years of age and may not earn more than 200 percent of the national poverty level annually. A patient hotline featuring information on the event is at (877) DAD-NCDS, or (877) 323-6237.
“I feel that the support from the North Carolina Dental Society, the N.C. MOM program and the School of Dentistry administration for student volunteers for the DAD clinic is such an important step toward combating the dental access-to-care issues in our state,” said Savannah Gelesko, a second-year dental student and UNC-Chapel Hill School of Dentistry project manager for the event. “The more students who are exposed to these disparities while in school, the more likely they will be to work toward helping people who can’t afford dental treatment on their own after they graduate.”