Dentistry Students Offer Free Screenings to Underserved Children

Photo by Derek Tang

More than 350 elementary school children in the Salt Lake City region received free dental screenings last December from University of Utah Health’s School of Dentistry. The check-ups were part of a special initiative, the Pediatric Oral Health Outreach Program, aimed at providing dental care for children within the Salt Lake City School District who otherwise could not afford it. “It is of particular importance to establish proper oral health care at a very young age, as it can impact so many aspects of health,” says Wyatt R. (Rory) Hume, dean of the School of Dentistry. “This unique program allows our students to gain valuable hands-on experience in pediatric care, while also allowing us to serve a critical need for the community.”

The program was made possible by generous gifts from the Lawrence T. and Janet T. Dee Foundation, The Castle Foundation, and the Sorenson Legacy Foundation.

Over the course of two weeks, a team of students and instructors from the School of Dentistry visited Washington and Lincoln elementary schools, where they conducted screenings along with basic fluoride treatments. About one fifth of the children were identified as needing follow up care, which was then offered at the university’s student dental clinic at the Ray and Tye Noorda Oral Health Sciences Building. In a few cases, the need was significant.

“One patient was found to have cavities in 16 of her 20 teeth, and was given significant restorative care,” says the dean. The program is the result of a recent partnership between the School of Dentistry and the Salt Lake Educational Foundation. Early reaction has been enthusiastic.

“This program has been like a dream come true for us,” says Victoria Palauni, coordinator of community learning at Lincoln Elementary, who often personally shuttles children from school to the clinic. “Many of these children never had the opportunity to get follow up care. Now they’re so excited—they even show each other their crowns and clean teeth. We think this is a vital program.”

“Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, we have been able to help with a portion of the dental needs found within a few schools,” says Hume. “We hope this partnership will continue to grow in the coming years.” Dentistry students visited a third school, Bennion Elementary, in mid-April, where they screened approximately 200 children.