New partnership amps up dental care for youngsters in East Dallas

January 15th, 2015
Fourth-year dental student Katelyn Kennedy treats a pediatric patient who keeps a plush mallard duck at her side.

Fourth-year dental student Katelyn Kennedy treats a pediatric patient at the Foremost Family Health Center – Martin Luther King Jr. location.

Seven people huddle around their young patient, the first of the day, but the little girl doesn’t seem to mind. No older than 5 or 6, she lays still, relaxed, a plush mallard duck tucked under one arm, as the student dentists and resident discuss her care.

It’s a Wednesday afternoon, which means students from Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry fill the pediatric dental wing at the Foremost Family Health Center – Martin Luther King Jr. location. The center is a community resource providing comprehensive medical and dental services, and a new partnership with TAMBCD’s pediatric dentistry program is increasing the oral health care provided to youngsters in East Dallas.

Dr. Shalisa Garner, a 2006 graduate of TAMBCD who practices at the center and coordinated the partnership, estimates that children comprise more than 20 percent of the 9,000 dental patients seen each year at the clinic.

“Pediatric dentistry residents from TAMBCD are improving our operations by facilitating a process by which children who are in need of general anesthesia are treated,” Garner says. “By having the residents at our facility, they are able to begin the initial exam and paperwork for the children who need to be seen in the OR.”

Their presence also helps address pressing needs among this patient population: reducing the number of childhood decay diagnoses, educating families about the role of diet and hygiene in caries prevention and establishing recall appointment routines.

In mid-September, small groups of third- and fourth-year dental students began rotating through the clinic one afternoon a week. A pediatric dentistry resident accompanies them and provides patient care instruction, and department faculty members are present to provide oversight.

The partnership has allowed TAMBCD dental students to work in a uniquely designed six-patient, open-bay clinic concept. A row of four dental chairs is devoid of dividers, each replete with TVs, allowing for X-ray viewing and children’s movie watching. Two private patient rooms have full nitrous oxide capability.

“It’s a lot more hands-on,” says fourth-year dental student Katelyn Kennedy. “The open room is a great learning environment for residents and students.”

Pediatric dentistry resident Dr. Benjamin Curtis discusses a patient's care while at the Foremost Family Health Center on Dec. 10, 2014.

Pediatric dentistry resident Dr. Benjamin Curtis discusses a patient’s care with dental students while at the Foremost Family Health Center on Dec. 10, 2014.

In this space they see patients as young as 6 months — those establishing a first dental home — up to teens, and dental students may perform exams and cleanings, place fillings including composites, complete pulpotomies, and undertake operative dentistry requiring nitrous oxide. During the appointment X-rays are taken, and the child’s weight and body mass index are charted.

On this particular Wednesday, Assistant Professor Dr. Kathleen Pace, director of pediatric dentistry predoctoral and graduate clinics, is at the center.

“We start evaluating the child at first contact, right when he or she walks through the door,” Pace says. “We chart head to feet, and it’s all done in a seamless fashion.”

The Foremost Family Health Center is one of two teaching sites — the other being the Healing Hands Clinic — in the college’s pediatric dentistry residency program. While residents rotate to hospitals such as Children’s Medical Center and Texas Scottish Rite, the two community locations allow them to fine-tune behavior management practices learned in dental school. In the process, they teach by example, in some cases inspiring dental students to pursue the specialty.

At the moment, pediatric dentistry resident Dr. Benjamin Curtis finishes up with the group’s first patient.

He sits with her, cautioning that her loose baby teeth may fall out soon. She nods her head with a smile, the little duck still in hand.

Pediatric dentistry resident Dr. Benjamin Curtis discusses with his young patient what will soon happen with her teeth.

—Jenny Fuentes

— Jennifer Fuentes