Dental health clinics return after two-year hiatus

March 9th, 2023

After a two-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas A&M School of Dentistry restarted its screening clinics at Dallas County elementary schools.

Dental students, dental hygiene students and staff members hosted a screening clinic at Mark Twain Elementary School Feb. 24. During the clinic, almost 400 kids received a dental checkup and had fluoride varnish applied to their teeth. Some were also referred to dentists for additional care.

“It’s amazing to have this up and running again,” said Dr. Amal Noureldin, who oversees the clinic. “Dr. [Stephen] Crane, who was with our department and then retired, and passed away just before the pandemic, started this 15 years ago. We come to Mark Twain twice a year, partnering with dental hygiene and delivering this service to the kiddos. It’s amazing to see 360-plus kids in one session.”

Noureldin explained that this clinic was for screenings and fluoride application, and a follow-up clinic will be held later in the year to apply sealants. Dental students conducted the checkups in the school library, where the kids were brought in one class at a time. They were then sent to the dental hygiene students for the fluoride varnish.

“We came out here to screen kids and make sure they don’t have any dental problems,” said D4 Mark Ashby. “This is my first time at this kind of clinic.”

“It’s really nice to be helping these kids,” added DH2 Leslie Carbajal. “A lot of them don’t get to go see a dentist regularly so having the fluoride and getting to help their oral health in any way is a good thing.”

Paula Harris, RDH, a volunteer at the clinic from the Dallas Dental Hygienists Association, said she helped grow the clinics into what they are today, from a focus on classroom education, teaching students how to floss and brush their teeth, to providing actual oral health care.

“It was about 2002 or 2003,” Harris said. “I thought that we should go into schools; we had only been doing education in classrooms. Then I applied for a grant, about $1,000, and about 2009 is when we started the partnership with you all. That helped us expand our care to the kids.”

Nyla Karim, Mark Twain Elementary’s school nurse, worked with Harris and the dental school to schedule the clinics, compile the proper paperwork, and communicate to parents the type of care their children will be receiving.

Clinics like this are incredibly important for the student body, Karim said, because sometimes dental health is not prioritized as highly as it should be. When she first started at the school 20 years ago, there was a significant need for improved oral health care amongst the student body.

“We’re providing some service to our kids,” she said. “We’re considered a Title I school, which means we have a lower socioeconomic population, and so they may not have any kind of health care. This is just one way to provide at least dental care. It’s not one less thing for the parents to worry about, but at least it’s a comfort to know that this need can be met.”

— Caleb Vierkant