Tacos and Toothbrushes Provides Oral Healthcare to the Underserved

Dentistry Today
Lisa Nguyen/UCLA

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Lisa Nguyen/UCLA

As the pandemic has made it more difficult for families to get oral healthcare, the nonprofit Kids’ Community Dental Clinic (KCDC) recently hosted a drive-through dental outreach event.

Twenty-one dental students and two members of the faculty from the UCLA School of Dentistry spent three hours serving 105 adults and 39 children who stayed in their cars while they received treatment. The San Fernando Oddfellows donated food and the event space.

The volunteers organized the lineup of cars and applied fluoride varnish to prevent dental disease in addition to handing out oral health kits, dental referral information, and freshly made tacos.

“Tacos and Toothbrushes was the first in-person volunteering event I was able to participate in since starting dental school at UCLA,” said first-year student Brent Humeston, who added that participating in outreach like this was more than community service. It was personal.

“For a large portion of my life I did not have dental insurance and my access to dental care was very limited,” said Humeston.

“I loved being able to provide fluoride varnish to those in need because I know the importance of preventative care. I am full of joy knowing that my small role volunteering at this event possibly prevented oral discomfort or possibly even future tooth loss,” he said.

KCDC’s longstanding mission is to improve the oral health of children from low-income families in Burbank and other areas of need, the nonprofit said. Its pediatric dentistry clinic is one of 13 affiliated sites that the UCLA School of Dentistry’s Community-Based Clinical Education Program collaborate with.

Established in 2018, the community-based clinical education program places fourth-year dental students in community dental clinics, such as federally qualified health centers and private practices that focus on people living at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, which for a family of four is $52,400 a year.

In exchange for providing treatment, trainees receive valuable clinical experience, UCLA said. All dental students are invited to attend outreach events. Events like Tacos and Toothbrushes allow first-year students to help their colleagues and gain experience in interacting with different populations despite not entering the clinic until later in their training.

“We are thankful for KCDC’s team for demonstrating what it is to be a true oral healthcare professional and community servant,” said Dr. Bill Piskorowski, associate dean of UCLA Dentistry’s Community-Based Clinical Education program.

“Through this service learning affiliation, we have strengthened our students’ ethic of caring and confidence in providing much needed care for an underserved, pediatric population,” Piskorowski said.

During the 2019-2020 fiscal year, dentists in the program provided more than 13,000 procedures at their affiliated sites, with most locations in Southern California. Students perform a range of services including patient education, cleanings, fillings, crowns, and extractions.

“I am so grateful we are able to continue building collaborations to find more ways to safely serve the community,” said Dr. Lisa Nguyen, associate director of the Community-Based Clinical Education program and a faculty member who helped coordinate UCLA’s participation in Tacos and Toothbrushes.

“This event also allowed our new first-year dental students to connect in person with each other and students in other years to ask for advice as school progresses,” Nguyen said.

For many first-year dental students, the event was the first time that they saw their dental school colleagues. Since the start of the school year, all first-year courses have taken place remotely.

“The start of this school year hasn’t been ideal for our first-year dental students. Friendships start during orientation and in those first few months,” said Dr. Paul Krebsbach, dean of the UCLA School of Dentistry.

“Connecting and collaborating with other students is a vital part of dental school We’re doing everything we can to supplement what our first-year students are missing out on, but it’s hard to truly replicate in-person instruction. Events like Tacos and Toothbrushes can help fill the void,” said Krebsbach.

According to KCDC director Dale Gorman, “the Kids’ Community Dental Clinic wants to impact as many people as possible with preventive care and access to our free and low-cost dental clinic. Teams of dentists, hygienists, dental students, hygiene students, dental assistants, and pre-dental student volunteers, including UCLA volunteers, help us provide treatment and tools to the families who need it the most.”

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