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Lending a Helping Hand to the Homeless

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Written by Adam Zewe

On any given night, more than 5,000 Marylanders try to fall sleep without a roof over their heads. Even though U.S. economic conditions have improved, homelessness remains a serious issue in Maryland and across the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. To help improve the oral health of the state's homeless population, a group of UMSOD students and faculty members volunteered to provide dental care at the seventh annual Anne Arundel County Homeless Resource Day on March 29.

Sixteen students and three faculty members participated in the event, which offered a wide range of free health care services, including cardiac screenings and HIV tests. UMSOD volunteers provided oral cancer screenings, performed general oral evaluations, and offered dental hygiene instructions to 135 adults and children.

Many patients were living in pain, suffering from severe decay and numerous broken teeth. Most had nowhere else to turn for treatment, states Scott Engle, DDS '14. "A lot of these patients struggle to access dental care. Simply being able to travel to a dental clinic or afford the treatments they need are huge barriers," Engle says.

It was especially rewarding to educate these patients about ways to maintain their oral health, says Heather Gula, DDS '16. "It's always a humbling experience to serve those who are less fortunate," she states. "It is so easy to take what we have for granted."

The event was also an important educational opportunity for the students, remarks Lisa D'Affronte, DDS '12, assistant general practice director. "My hope is that the students not only learned how to do a proper oral cancer screening and provide oral hygiene instructions, but more importantly, that they understand the financial limitations and lack of access to care that affects a large part of our patient population," she says. "It is important to think of ways we can give back to the community and help those who need it most."

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