Serving the Community
Dental Clinic at Homeless Center Provides Oral Care for Residents, Experience for Students
By Catherine Duncan
At the end of a hallway at SAMMinistries’ Transitional Living and Learning Center, women with children sit on benches waiting for the opening of the Infante Dental Clinic. Some of them are in pain with urgent dental maladies while others are suffering from less critical oral issues.
Inside the small, two dental-chair clinic, dental and dental hygiene students from the School of Dentistry prepare for the first patients’ appointments beginning at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday in August. Dental and dental hygiene faculty members are on hand to answer questions and supervise the clinical work performed. All these volunteers have spent their day in classes or in teaching clinics. Now, they cheerfully spend their evening helping those in great need of oral health care.
These families are trying to become self-sufficient as they transition out of homelessness. Many who have battled poverty for many years have not had the extra money or dental insurance needed for regular dental cleanings or care. Residents of this transitional living facility have been able to get free dental care because of the SAMMinistries’ Infante Dental Clinic, part of the UT Health San Antonio Student-Faculty Collaborative Practice.
The student-faculty collaborative is continuing the work of Taline “Talley” Dadian Infante, Ed.D., M.S., RDH, then chair of the Division of Dental Hygiene, who founded the dental clinic in 2007. Dr. Infante died in 2013 at age 56 from
a brain tumor.
Mary Norma Partida, D.D.S., M.P.H., retired professor of comprehensive dentistry, said the program’s student leaders and student volunteers are amazing. “It is wonderful to see the passion and commitment to serving the homeless. It is very inspiring.”
Dr. Partida, who helped Dr. Infante secure the clinic location and initial funding, said the program is now overseen by an executive board consisting of faculty mentors Adriana Green, D.D.S., M.P.H., associate professor/clinical of comprehensive dentistry, and Jo Ann Diaz Jordan, M.A., RDH, director of the Dental Hygiene Program, as well as nine student members, including dental hygiene and dental students. The faculty mentors and student leaders recruit fellow faculty members and students who usually volunteer once or twice a year. A waiting list of student volunteers is proof of the program’s success.
Natasha Mathews, a fourth-year dental student and board chair, said the dental clinic now primarily offers regular cleanings, deep cleanings, extractions and fillings. The volunteer team works three days a month with one morning devoted to screenings, which include X-rays and diagnosis. One night is dedicated to cleanings by the dental hygiene students, while an urgent care night concentrates on extractions and fillings by dental students.
“In one session, we try to see two to four patients. Last academic year, we were able to see 76 patients from July 2016 through May 2017,” said Mathews, who is in her third year of volunteering for the faculty-student program.
This is a wonderful way to give back to the community, she said. “It is a great avenue to perform a community service. And, it cultivates leadership and clinical skills.”
Mathews said the students have used what they learn in the classroom to continue to improve the program. “Initially this was a walk-in clinic. Some days several people would show up while other days no one came. We found it much more efficient to create a screening day. Then we would schedule the patients. Now we can control what we are doing in the clinic. It is more efficient.”
Funding for the dental clinic continues to come from SAMMinistries and the School of Dentistry, which donates supplies and equipment, such as the panoramic X-ray machine. Student leaders continue to apply for and be awarded Community Service Learning Midi Grants from the university’s Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics. These grants allow them to buy dental supplies.
Jordan, who mentors the onsite dental hygiene student volunteers, said she is thrilled the students are continuing and expanding the dental clinic that Dr. Infante created.
“Talley was this unusual dental hygienist who had such big visions. She put so much hard work into starting the clinic,” said Jordan, who was taught by Dr. Infante, an associate professor of periodontics. “We couldn’t let it stop. We had to keep it going in her honor.”