Providing free dental screenings to Special Olympics athletes is just one of the many ways UMKC School of Dentistry students and faculty give back.

Spirit of service soars at UMKC Dental School

Students provide care and compassion to communities in need

To witness the human side of dental education, you need only stand in a corner of the reception area of the Rinehart Clinic at the School of Dentistry as morning or afternoon sessions get underway. The area, which is not small, is packed with people of every possible age, color, ethnicity, education and income. Looking across the clinic you’ll see people reading, talking, corralling kids or assisting the elderly.

Some patients may be new to the clinic and look a little bewildered by the procession of student doctors strolling in, calling names, greeting their patients and disappearing into the mysterious halls behind the reception desk. Others have been to the dental school many times and greet their student doctors with a smile, a handshake and occasionally a hug.

As you watch this seemingly chaotic, yet charming cavalcade of humanity, you’ll begin to notice that the student doctors and dental hygienists at the UMKC School of Dentistry are not just treating patients, they’re treating patients as people — with genuine respect, compassion and concern. Remarkably, UMKC students treat “patients as people” at the rate of approximately 80,000 patient visits per year.

What’s not so easily seen (or counted) are the innumerable ways that UMKC dental and dental hygiene students devote themselves to serving people beyond the bounds of the school’s Rinehart Clinic.

“Volunteer service is kind of in our students’ nature,” says Dr. Michael McCunniff, director of Outreach and chair of the Department of Dental Public Health and Behavioral Science. “A history of giving back to the community is actually something the school’s admission committee looks for in prospective students.”

Following are just a few of the many ways UMKC dental and dental hygiene students, graduates and faculty selflessly donate their time, talent and energy to improving the world we all share.

Extramural Clinical Rotations

As part of the UMKC School of Dentistry’s Community-Based Dental Education course, dental students participate in Extramural Clinical Rotations. Students spend a week during their third year and fourth years delivering care at a variety of sites in a network of Community Health Centers and Rural Federally Qualified Health Centers. By serving on multi-disciplinary teams that meet the primary health care needs of underserved populations, students are able to practice alternative methods of dental care delivery to different populations at high risk for dental disease.

International Outreach Program

Honduras: Each year since 2006, approximately 30 UMKC Dental School tudents, faculty and alumni travel to Honduras, Central America, where they spend two weeks in August delivering comprehensive dental care to residents in and around the city of Pimienta. Dr. Tom Jones and Dr. Amul Singh — both are clinical assistant professors of General Dentistry — have been organizing the trips.

Nicaragua: Since 2000, Dr. Greg Houston, clinical assistant professor of General Dentistry, has organized and led several groups of UMKC students and faculty to Nicaragua to deliver dental care to underserved populations.

Guatemala: Since 1997, Dr. Joe Spalitto a part-time UMKC clinical faculty member, and his wife Liz, along with parishioners from St. Thomas More Church in Kansas City, Mo., and volunteers from the School of Dentistry and the community, have traveled to Guatemala to offer dental care to rural, indigenous people. On each trip, they have treated more than 200 patients with severe dental problems.

Students Take Action

Students Take Action (STA) was founded in 1998 by a group of dental and dental hygiene students dedicated to compassion and comradeship through community service. The group takes pride in making a difference in the Kansas City metro area by serving the needs of the community. STA members volunteer at free and discounted clinics, perform screenings at various events, and mentor children. The group semiannually organizes Shear Madness, a “fundrazor” that raises money to send children with cancer to Camp Quality, an area summer camp, free of charge. Students, faculty, and staff raise money by having their heads shaved in front of the Shear Madness audience. Last year, the event raised more than $7,000.

Special Olympics Volunteers

Nearly every year for the past decade or so, Dr. John Haynes, chair of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry, has organized a group of approximately 80 School of Dentistry student and alumni volunteers to work at Kansas City Special Olympics. The volunteers perform screenings and offer tooth brushing instruction to the athletes. If the athletes indicate that they don’t have a dentist, the volunteers provide them with a list of dentists who will provide care. The athletes also receive a bag of freebies that include a tooth brush and dental floss.

Posted: July 27, 2009

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"A history of giving back to the community is actually something the school's admission committee looks for in prospective students."

Dr. Michael McCunniff
Director of Outreach and Chair of the Department of Dental Public Health and Behavioral Science

UMKC School of Dentistry student Ashley Knight met President George W. Bush on the tarmac of a Kansas City suburban airport last year, where he personally presented her with the President’s Volunteer Service Award. Read the full story here.