Panhandle Dental Day makes a big difference

by Sydnie Hochstein, College of Dentistry | June 27, 2017

Image with caption: Third-year dental students Megan Eitemiller and Nicole Searcey provide dental treatment to a child during Panhandle Children's Dental Day 2017.

Third-year dental students Megan Eitemiller and Nicole Searcey provide dental treatment to a child during Panhandle Children's Dental Day 2017.

On a Saturday morning in early June, a group of UNMC faculty, students, resident and staff members were gathered for a group photo outside the Gordon Memorial Hospital in Gordon, Neb.

A wide reach out west

Started in 2004, Panhandle Children's Dental Day has served as a dental "safety net" for children in rural Nebraska. The event provides free dental care to approximately 200 children in western Nebraska each year. This year, along with volunteers from local dental offices, more than 60 UNMC dental faculty, students and residents provided a range of treatments including cleanings, sealants and fillings, extractions and oral hygiene education.

This year's volunteers performed an estimated 2,100 procedures throughout the two-day period, a total of about $120,000 in free dental care. They saw patients at several sites, including:

  • Gordon Memorial Hospital
  • Horizon West Dental in Alliance
  • Summit Dental Group in Sidney
  • LifeSmiles of Sidney
  • Several patients requiring surgical procedures or anesthesia were treated at Box Butte General Hospital in Alliance.

As they finished, a car pulled into the parking lot. It was a woman and her young son, who had received dental care the day before as part of the College of Dentistry's annual Panhandle Children's Dental Day event.

His mother stopped several members of the group, in tears, to express her gratitude for helping her son. She informed the group there was no way she would have been able to afford the dental care he needed if they weren't there to provide it -- free of charge.

"She teared up. We teared up. I'm almost certain there wasn't a dry eye in the group," said Bryan Larsen, third-year dental student. "You remember things like that for a long time."

That story is just one example of the many benefits of Panhandle Dental Day.

David Brown, Ph.D., executive associate dean for academic affairs, said that they've seen an increase in dental decay among rural children throughout the state this year. This shows the continued need for dental services provided by UNMC.

"This year's event was one of the best we have had," Dr. Brown said. "Out of the 211 patients we saw, we haven't gotten any calls for follow-up care. That speaks to the quality of work our volunteers provide."

"The commitment of our students, residents, faculty, staff, alums and the community dentists who have all volunteered their time and talent is truly remarkable," said Janet Guthmiller, D.D.S, Ph.D., dean of the UNMC College of Dentistry. "We are so pleased that we can restore so many smiles of our Nebraska children."

Dental Day also provides educational support and other resources to families in need. Many of the children pre-screened for the event do not have a dental home in their area, nor the financial means to see a dentist regularly, said Nicole Baker, clinical instructor in the Department of Dental Hygiene -- West Division.

"By offering this service to these children, we get them in contact with potential dental homes, as well as help relieve the possible financial burden of dental care," she said.

For the students and residents who participated, Dental Day is an opportunity to gain experience, build skills and help people who truly need it.

"We've come to learn about the tremendous shortage of dentists in much of the state of Nebraska," Larsen said. "So to head out west, where access to dental care is certainly limited, providing care is a great thing."


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Lisa Spellman
June 27, 2017 at 8:02 AM

The UNMC College of Dentistry is a shining example of service in action and the incredible commitment of those who serve. True leaders in selflessness and charity. Great work everyone!