U.S. Air Force veteran Nathaniel Williams of Jackson receives a blood test from nursing student Annie Sinclair during 2018 Dental Mission Week. Image: UMMC

by Kate Royals/UMMC Public Affairs

Nathaniel Williams of Jackson will be returning to this year’s Dental Mission Week at the University of Mississippi Medical Center after receiving what he referred to as “tremendous” care last year.

Williams, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, is one of 265 veterans who do not qualify for dental benefits from the G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center who received free treatment during the event last year.

When he saw that the School of Dentistry was planning the event, he jumped at the opportunity.

“I never knew what a real cleaning felt like. And then they pulled a tooth … I didn’t even know it was out,” he recalled. “Everybody was friendly and focused on those teams. I was impressed.”

Dental Mission Week is a joint effort involving volunteers from the Schools of Dentistry, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Related Professions and Medicine at UMMC along with dentists and staff from local practices. The goal is to provide much-needed dental care to underserved and uninsured adults and children.

“There’s a lot of people, a lot of hustle and bustle and activity, but they get the job done,” Williams said of the volunteers.

From Feb. 4 through Feb. 8, Mississippians will get the opportunity again at the third installment of the event, held each year since 2017. Those interested in participating can apply here.

“Dental Mission Week was born out of our students’ desire to serve the community. This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for the School of Dentistry and our partners to give back in the form of high quality, free dental care for those who might not be able to afford it otherwise,” Dr. David Felton, dean of the school and professor of care planning and restorative dentistry sciences, said. “Each year we have treated more patients than before, and I hope we will do the same in 2019 and for many years to follow.”

Kicking off Dental Mission Week each year is Give Kids a Smile Day, where hundreds of elementary-aged children from select Jackson Public Schools visit the dental school to get a free teeth cleaning and oral evaluation to take home. If necessary, a note requesting a follow-up visit is sent home with the child.

For many Johnson Elementary students last year, receiving dental care at GKAS was the first time they had their teeth cleaned.

More than 500 students from Johnson, two other local elementary schools and the Stewpot After-School Program received free dental care valued at over $100,000 during the 2018 event. During the rest of the week, 1,348 adults from across the state received 6,460 dental procedures worth about $1.05 million in uncompensated care.

The event is much needed in Mississippi, where more than half of residents who have not seen a dentist in the last 12 months gave cost as the main reason for the lapse, according to a survey from the American Dental Association.

Mississippi also has the second lowest patient-to-dentist ratio in the United States, according to the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute, making access to dental care a problem for some. There are 2,120 residents for every active, licensed dentist in the state, and in rural areas that number is even higher, according to the Mississippi State Board of Dental Examiners and U.S. Census data.

This year, the School of Dentistry at UMMC will host its 15th annual Give Kids a Smile Day on Monday, Feb. 4, with the rest of Dental Mission Week continuing through that week. Feb. 7 will be Veterans Day.

To take part in Dental Mission Week, potential patients are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. The application can be found online here.

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