Dental care goes to the people

ST. GEORGE - Southern Utahns in need of dental care will soon reap the benefits of Dixie State College's new mobile clinic.

Generous donations from dental professionals enabled the college to recently open the mobile clinic's doors to the public for the first time Wednesday.

"Now we're going to take care to those who've had a disparity of health care," said DSC faculty member Gina Cannon. Under the supervision of advisors like Cannon, students will gain hands-on experience while providing basic care for the public and underserved populations with services from cleaning and fluoride treatments to fillings and radiographic services.

Access to basic care stems from a lack of transportation for many of the underserved, Cannon said.

The mobile clinic will serve those in nursing homes, people with disabilities, elementary school students and residents of American Indian reservations, along with meeting the needs of the under- and uninsured.

Students will gain real-world experience and insight into the industry, including learning subtle cultural differences, said Cannon.

"We're going to serve the needs - as opposed to pressing our assumption of what their needs are. (We'll) serve them from their aspect," she said.

The services the unit will provide are vital, dental professionals say, as studies show oral diseases impact an individual's ability to consume nutrients, which leads to a chain reaction impacting the immune system, even longevity.

Cannon says the services also extend to quality of life as well.

"We change personalities - they can smile again," said Cannon, noting the clinic's slogan: 'A few miles for bright smiles.'"

The clinic benefits the college on several levels, from expansion of classes to adding a dimension to the institution's dental hygiene program, said DSC president Lee Caldwell, noting the unit "leverages the talents and skills of everyone to do something that could not otherwise be achieved."

"There are very few communities in the country that have a dental community that is as committed to young people and dental care as this community has been," said Caldwell who cited a long history of dentists of the past who offered preventative care to third-grade students in need.

But today, the region's growth, with more than 40 schools throughout the district, poses logistical challenges for medical professionals to reach those in need, a challenge Caldwell and others are hopeful the mobile clinic may help alleviate.

"It brings dental care in a much more friendly setting to students. We think that's an important part of the outreach effort as well," said Caldwell.

For Karmen Aplanalp, DSC's interim dental coordinator, the clinic is something for hygienists to get excited about.

"Most hygienists want to provide care for everyone and educate and teach everybody the need for preventative care," said Aplanalp.

Officials say the clinic's schedule and route won't be determined until the first of the year.