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Dental Care Helps Patients Rebuild Their Lives

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Written by Adam Zewe

When Robert Laraway's patient first sat in a dental chair at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD), he had only eight remaining teeth. The man, a recovering addict, was able to obtain dental treatment through the rehabilitation program at Baltimore's Helping Up Mission (HUM). He is one of more than a thousand HUM patients who have received critical dental care at UMSOD during the past seven years.

Laraway, a fourth-year dental student, was able to save all the patient's remaining teeth with restorations and is currently fabricating dentures that will vastly improve his health, nutrition and self-confidence. "It is very rewarding to be able to give these men something special as they look to better themselves through the Helping Up Mission. By coming to the School of Dentistry, this patient now understands the importance of proper oral hygiene and will soon have a stable and beautiful set of dentures," Laraway remarks.

For many of the men who are served by HUM, rebuilding their smiles is a critical part of rebuilding their lives. The mission, a privately-funded holistic recovery program in inner-city Baltimore, is dedicated to providing for its patients' physical, spiritual, psychological and social needs, says James Hill, client services manager. "Receiving dental care improves our clients' self-images and that, in turn, improves their self-esteem. Recapturing those personal attributes is very important for the people we serve," he remarks. Dental care improves the patients' oral and overall health, but it also gives them the confidence to seek employment, he explains. The treatments provided by UMSOD students and faculty members helps these men achieve full recovery.

UMSOD students also benefit from the partnership with HUM. They learn to develop effective treatment plans for underserved patients, some of whom suffer from extensive dental and medical conditions, remarks Assistant Professor Deborah Rodriguez, DDS '85. "This is a wonderful partnership that helps fulfill the mission of the School of Dentistry to improve the quality of life in Maryland through service-related programs and education," she states.

Treating an HUM patient helped Kevin Lee, DDS '15, develop stronger patient management skills. He also saw firsthand how gratifying it can be to help someone on their journey to recovery. "Dentistry is a profession where I have the potential to change lives. Working with patients from the Helping Up Mission definitely provides this opportunity. I'm glad I can play a role in helping them get back on their feet," he remarks.

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