By Joe Garvey

Old Dominion University’s Gene W. Hirschfeld School of Dental Hygiene recently partnered with Eastern Virginia Medical School’s HOPES Clinica Esperanza to provide free services to children for whom English is a second language.

Youths ages 4 to 13, whose parents signed their children up for a referral from the HOPES Free Clinic, received dental assessments, X-rays, teeth cleanings, fluoride varnish applications and preventative sealants on Nov. 5 at ODU’s David and Sofia Konikoff Dental Hygiene Care Facility, which is in the College of Health Sciences.

A total of 26 ODU dental hygiene students provided the treatment under the supervision of licensed dental hygiene faculty, which included Associate Professor and School Chair Ann Bruhn, Senior Lecturer/Dentist Lee Melvin, Assistant Professor Emily Ludwig, Lecturer Adaira Howell, Director of Clinical Affairs Lauren Eusner and adjunct faculty member Samantha Vest. Graduate teaching assistant Monica Puentes also participated.

ODU provided more than $400 worth of donated services, Eusner said.

Clinics such as this are important in the education of dental hygienists. The school’s students’ certification examination first-time pass rates on the Dental Hygiene Clinical Board Examinations have been at least 97% since 2015.

Eusner said the clinic allowed students to not only help those in need, but also to meet their clinical requirements for working with culturally diverse patients and providing certain types of procedures.

Additionally, Associate Professor Luis Guadano from the Department of World Languages and Cultures and two of his Spanish students assisted with translation, along with Medical Spanish students from EVMS.

“It was really great to have the folks from Arts and Letters here, too,” Eusner said. “They were fabulous.”

Maryanne Koech Gathambo, director of EVMS Community-Engaged Learning, said this partnership fills a critical need.

“We reached out to ODU because we recognized the need for holistic care for our pediatric population since oral health is vital for children’s development and growth,” she said. “During our needs assessment, we came across many studies that found pediatricians recommended dental care to patients, but families encountered barriers in accessing care. Since we cannot offer the oral health-care screening or other mitigating services ourselves, it felt only natural to create this partnership, and our students and the Community-Engaged Learning team found a way to do get this done. This partnership is invaluable, and we hope to continue into the future as the needs and resources allow.”

Eusner said the School of Dental Hygiene and EVMS have been collaborating for about a year. Previously, patients were scheduled individually during normal clinic hours in coordination with a translator.

The Nov. 5 clinic “was our idea to make it a little easier for the patients to be seen,” she said. “I do think it did help. Because we had all the translation services we needed, the coordination of everything went a lot smoother.”  

Eusner said the school and EVMS are aiming to sponsor another clinic toward the end of the spring semester, when this group of children are due to return for care.

The Konikoff Dental Care Facility provides low-cost care to ODU students, faculty and staff in addition to the local community. Most services cost less than $50. The facility is open from September through June except for holidays, semester breaks and spring and summer vacation. The School of Dental Hygiene has 20 full-time, part-time and adjunct faculty, three staff and four supervising dentists.

The Dental Hygiene Care Facility and Clinic has provided oral preventive care services to more than 1,860 people totaling approximately $80,000 in services during the past year alone.

The goals of the clinic are to teach dental hygiene students to provide quality preventive and therapeutic care for patients, and to research health-care issues that will keep the profession in the forefront of scientific knowledge.

The Dental Hygiene Dental Research Center, officially sanctioned by the University in 2000, was the first worldwide facility dedicated solely to dental hygiene research.

Leaders from ODU and EVMS, in coordination with Sentara Healthcare, are working on an integration plan to create an academic health center, to seek enhanced and consistent funding of EVMS from the commonwealth and community partners, and to explore ways to better address health care disparities in Hampton Roads.