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Crowdfunding efforts underway for new mobile dental van

Donated to UTHealth School of Dentistry, the mobile dental van has provided care to underserved communities since 2002.

It’s the season of giving and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Dentistry has launched a crowdfunding campaign for a new mobile dental van. The purchase will help support the school’s effort in bringing healthcare to underserved communities for years to come.

The campaign, which runs through Dec. 31, has currently raised over $18,400. The goal is $30,000.

“We will be forever grateful for all the care we’ve been able to provide in our current van, but after 18-plus years, the time has finally come to purchase a new one,” said Margo Melchor, RDH, EdD, RDH, EdD, associate professor of dental hygiene and director of community outreach at UTHealth School of Dentistry. “A new van will allow our community outreach program to continue to deliver exceptional care for patients and provide further educational opportunities for our students in a setting that adequately mirrors a clinical environment.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Health Charities donated the original van to the dental school in 2002 to provide care to underserved communities. UTHealth School of Dentistry staffs and operates the van, and services and expenses are funded by income from grants and contracts.

Since its inaugural trip, the van has logged over 107,000 miles to treat patients ranging from the Greater Houston area to as far as rural communities in East Texas.

An estimated $1.1 million in free care and over 8,700 procedures have been provided through this outreach initiative since 2015.

Fourth-year dental students may be assigned to a three-week rotation on the dental van as part of their clinical education and is a “learning-through-community-service opportunity,” according to Debra Stewart, DDS, assistant professor of dentistry and dental van clinical coordinator at UTHealth School of Dentistry.

During the 2019-20 academic year, the dental van team completed more than 3,000 treatments at no cost to nearly 400 patients in rural East Texas.

Student-provided treatments included:

  • Exams;
  • Cleanings;
  • Oral hygiene instructions;
  • Deep cleanings – root planing and scaling;
  • Restorative procedures and fillings;
  • Extractions.

In addition, several root canal procedures were performed, and interim partial dentures were fitted for patients.

The dental van is part of the UTHealth School of Dentistry’s vision of improving oral health to improve overall health. Donations can be made at Go.uth.edu/VanDonate.

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