Columbia Dental Students Focus on Community Outreach

Dentistry Today
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Members of the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine (CDM) chapter of the Hispanic Dental Student Association (HSDA) have been providing oral health education and supplies to New York’s Hispanic and minority community in ways that pose little or no risk of virus transmission.

Recently, the students have been coordinating the distribution of hundreds of toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes in conjunction with the nonprofit Catholic Charities Alianza Division, which operates a weekly food pantry and provides necessities to families in Washington Heights, the upper Manhattan neighborhood where CDM is located.

“Because of COVID-19, we haven’t been able to put together the events we usually do. But then we learned about these pantries, and at the same time we learned from our national association that there’s toothpaste available in Reading, Pennsylvania, where the Hispanic Dental Association national office used to be located,” said Carlos Galvez, class of 2022 and president of the CDM HSDA chapter.

“We said, okay, it’s perfect. That’s something we could do to help the community,” said Galvez.

Joined by CDM student affairs director Jary Patrocinio and Luz Aguirre, DMD, the chapter’s faculty mentor, members drove to Reading in June to pick up the supplies. The HSDA group then portioned out nearly 800 toothpaste tubes into prepared food bags at the July 2 pantry, and they plan to distribute the many remaining dental care items at upcoming pantries.

In a typical year, the CDM HSDA students organize multiple outreach activities at local health fairs and schools to offer oral health information. This year, they instead created a kid-friendly video to demonstrate proper toothbrushing and shared it with teachers to include in their remote classes.

The group also plans to host a modified version of its annual fundraising event for Incarnation Children’s Center, a nursing facility that provides specialized care for children and adolescents living with HIV/AIDS.

The chapter additionally holds Spanish classes, and all CDM students are invited. Washington Heights is home to a large Spanish-speaking population as well as many of the patients of CDM’s teaching clinics, so these lessons help bridge communication gaps, CDM said. The classes will resume virtually soon after the summer term.

“A lot of students are going to be impacted in clinic,” said Galvez. “There’s incentive for them to get to know the community and explore the diversity within Hispanic cultures. Hopefully the classes help them communicate better with their patients, but also understand better the patients and their needs.”

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