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BCD volunteers care for hundreds of children at back-to-school fair

TablesIt’s 7:45 a.m. Aug. 7 and the HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry booth in Fair Park’s Centennial Building is fully equipped as its workers wait anxiously for the start of the 12th annual Dallas Mayor’s “Back-to-School” Fair.

At more than 20 tables formed into an “L” shape, operator stools for volunteers are  paired with red folding chairs for patients to create mini-screening stations. On the tables sit disposable masks and gloves, gauze pads, paper towels, flashlights and lots of fluoride varnish packets. In fact 3,500 packets are on standby, says Richard Cardenas, public health sciences administrative coordinator and the event organizer for HSC-BCD.

Meanwhile more than 50,000 people wait in the balmy morning outside. Even though the fair doesn’t begin until 8 a.m., they’ve already had breakfast and enjoyed entertainment since 6 a.m. Clowns, jugglers and radio DJs keep the kids upbeat while they wait. Then just before 8 a.m., Mayor Tom Leppert and other officials take the stage to kick off the fair.

“I don’t know another city in the country that has an event like this,” says Patricia Crisp, a regional representative for the U.S. Department of Education.

VolunteersThe fair is free for Dallas school children who come from low-income families. Most pre-register for the fair, and if they visit four categories of service providers such as HSC-BCD during the event, they will receive free school supplies.

Fifteen minutes after kickoff, the scene has quickly changed at the HSC-BCD booth. At her station, Elain Benton, public health sciences instructor, sees two patients at once – 2-year-old Chrissy and her mom Kissy, who is expecting another child any day.

“Today is awesome,” Benton says. “You can tell all of the patients are appreciative. [The event] makes you realize how important education is, especially for parents. If parents don’t understand why dental care is important, then they won’t emphasize it to their children. If children have cavities and teeth that hurt, this affects their ability to pay attention in class, their ability to learn; it’s extremely important.”

Benton’s station is one of more than 20 at the HSC-BCD booth. Dental hygiene students, dental students and pediatric residents staff the stations. Chair and vice chair of public health sciences, Drs. Daniel Jones and K. Vendrell-Rankin, and dental hygiene chair Dr. Janice DeWald ensure the stations are running efficiently. Several faculty members also have volunteered, including Benton, Drs. Anneta Bitouni, Stephen Crane and Patricia Skur from public health sciences, Lisa Harper Mallonee from dental hygiene, and Dr. David Hale from pediatric dentistry. HSC-BCD staff members help register patients and direct them to open stations.

VolunteerA key group of volunteers is Spanish translators, who will convey to parents what’s seen during the child’s mini-screening.

“Over the last four years, explaining children’s dental needs and how to access dental care to non-English speaking parents has presented a challenge,” Rankin says. “We serve a large Hispanic community at this event, so the translators are extremely helpful.”

Around the corner, that exact scenario unfolds as Crane examines a 5-year-old boy. He tells Skur his patient has two cavities; Skur translates this to his mother and encourages the family to visit a community dental clinic.

When the family is finished, they get a validation sticker required to get the free school supplies, along with a referral list of community clinics.

By the end of the day, the 70 HSC-BCD volunteers have seen more than 800 children.

“Out of 50,000 people, there were certainly many more children we could’ve seen, but with the space we had, our booth ran very efficiently,” Jones says. “We’ve done this long enough now that we’ve learned to maximize our efficiency. Our goal next year is to ask the city for a larger space so that we can serve more people.

“Aside from the immunizations, we’re the only booth at the fair that performs a service that immediately benefits the student,” Jones says. “The fluoride varnish we apply will prevent cavities for the next six months, and possibly even help remineralize teeth, allowing them to repair themselves.”

Rankin says, “What strikes me about today is the children’s unquestioning cooperation, particularly the very young ones, many of whom are seeing a dentist or dental hygienist for the first time. Very few are scared; we have very few criers. They trust you completely, and that’s a great feeling.”