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The story behind the grin

Brittani Bartlett

Brittani Bartlett's photo
has decorated the Seal Mobile
for more than a decade.

Photo by Steven Doll

Ever wonder where the kids pictured on the Seal Mobile are now, the ones with those ever-present, youthful smiles? More than a decade later, as the sealant program expands yet again, one of the girls in the photo talks to us about bragging rights, plans for the future and her close family ties to TAMHSC-BCD.

There’s a fixture, so to speak, near the exit to the dental school’s parking garage. You may have noticed it, if you’ve ever stolen a glance to your right as you approach that red-and-white traffic arm before pulling onto Nussbaumer Street.

On days when Public Health Sciences Assistant Professor Dr. Stephen Crane isn’t trekking around Dallas with students and faculty making sealant visits, you can find the Seal Mobile in its permanent parking spot. Look closely, and you’ll see several smiling faces.

The face to the far right — the one of a young girl, brown hair in braided pigtails, tied with pink bands at the ends — belongs to Brittani Bartlett. She’s not just there by chance. Brittani, then 8, has enjoyed close ties to Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry her entire life.

“Brittani isn’t that little girl with pigtails anymore,” says Leeanna Bartlett, Brittani’s grandmother, who happens to be an assistant professor in public health sciences and director of social services.

A lot has changed in the years since that photo was taken at a health fair at Rice Elementary School. The sealant program recently reached a new milestone in mid-March with the arrival of a mobile dental unit with two self-contained operatories and a $20,000 donation from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry to put toward 2012 sealant initiatives.

Brittani Bartlett
Brittani, on one of her many visits to the dental school during her childhood

Photo courtesy Leeanna Bartlett

Brittani, too, has matured.

For starters, the Leonard High School senior will graduate this spring. She’s 18 and deeply involved in sports, with plans to go into physical therapy or sports medicine.


“I thought having my picture on the Seal Mobile was just the coolest thing. It made me think I was famous, and I was sure my friends thought so, too.”
—Brittani Bartlett


“During my junior year, I tore my ACL playing basketball and eventually had to have surgery to repair it,” Brittani says. “The experience caused me to become interested in the health care field. I plan to go to a community college to complete my basics and then transfer to a four-year university.”

In the midst of a hectic senior year filled with schoolwork, sports and milestone social events, spring break provided the perfect opportunity for Brittani to return to the dental school for a dose of nostalgia. Always a good sport, she even took a few minutes to pose for yet another photo. The location and photographer may have been different, but the backdrop — the sealant van, a mainstay at TAMHSC-BCD since fall 2000 — was unchanged.

The first photo

Brittani admits she doesn’t recall a lot from the day the first Seal Mobile photo was taken, mainly because that particular community event was just one of many she attended with her grandmother.

“I do remember that she told me a photographer wanted to take a picture of me with some other children,” she says. “I didn’t know what it was for at the time.”

While sealant van sightings don’t occur in Leonard, which is more than an hour north of Dallas, Brittani still has a photo of the van featuring her picture on the side. During her elementary school years, she would show it off to friends.

“I thought having my picture on the Seal Mobile was just the coolest thing,” she says. “It made me think I was famous, and I was sure my friends thought so, too.”

Leeanna Bartlett
Leeanna Bartlett, now assistant professor in public
health sciences and director of social services, during
one of her childhood visits to the dental school to see
her
father, the late Dr. James Bennett Hooker

Photo courtesy Leeanna Bartlett

Dentistry as a family dynamic


“Brittani was very close to my father, and he was the primary person who taught her the importance of oral hygiene.”

—Leeanna Bartlett


Brittani’s ties to the college span more than just her and her grandmother’s generations. Leeanna Bartlett’s father, faculty member Dr. James Bennett Hooker, was a mainstay in the fixed prosthodontics clinic; his picture can be found on the TAMHSC-BCD Hall of Fame on the 6th floor.

“Brittani was very close to my father, and he was the primary person who taught her the importance of oral hygiene,” Leeanna Bartlett says. “She has grown up with dental care being a big part of her family’s life, and she has had very few dental problems.”

Her granddaughter agrees.

“I have always felt that taking care of your teeth should be a top priority, and I’ve always done a good job of that,” Brittani says. “I’m sure their influence played a large part in shaping my attitude.”

Regular visits to the dental school also helped.

“We moved farther away when I was in the fourth grade, and I haven’t visited much since then,” Brittani says. “I have three younger brothers, and I wish they could go to community activities with my grandmother like I did.”

During Brittani’s childhood visits to the college, she’d gravitate toward the puppets in her grandmother’s office, which were often used in Tooth Talks at Dallas-area schools.

“She used to love to play school and had her own version of Tooth Talk that she presented to her dolls over and over,” Leeanna Bartlett says. “I’ve heard that the best way to really learn something is to teach it, so maybe that’s the reason for her good oral hygiene."


Leeanna Bartlett’s observations

While some of Brittani Bartlett’s interactions with the people at TAMHSC-BCD may have occurred when she was a bit too young to recall all the details, her grandmother was more than happy to divulge some memorable and, naturally, humorous stories.

The tour

“Brittani went with me to a Dallas Police Department health fair at the Southeast Substation. Suddenly I realized she had disappeared, and it was frightening. My dad also was there, and we and the dental students stopped everything and began looking frantically for her. I was on the verge of going into full-blown panic mode when an officer emerged from the police van with Brittani. He had taken her on a little tour of the van without realizing that we didn’t know where she was.”

Troublesome veneers

“One day a lady came to TAMHSC-BCD for a screening appointment and was immediately the center of attention. She had created her own veneers by using superglue to affix fake fingernails to her teeth. They didn’t give her the aesthetic result she wanted, and they were a nightmare to remove. Brittani thought that story was very funny, but I made sure that she also realized that she should never do anything like that to her teeth.”

Television connection

“When Brittani was a patient at the dental college her student dentist was Jed Hildebrand. This was especially exciting to her since he had just been on the television show ‘Survivor.’ He later went to her school and gave a Tooth Talk and told the boys and girls about his experiences on the show.”