Dental Clinics Recruit Students To Fill The Gap

Treasa Bryant, 38, is a single mother who lost her job at Kindred Hospital in Mansfield when the facility closed last fall.

While she was raising two sons, Bryant put off her dental care needs. Then, she found out she has breast cancer.

“It’s not really that it wasn’t important, it’s just sometimes when you only got so much, you try to work in what really matters first,” Bryant says. “And getting to the doctors, getting the boys what they need for school, is more important than worrying about my teeth at the moment. You gotta do what you gotta do.”

There is one bright spot: Bryant has Medicaid, meaning she now gets free dental care at the Third Street Family Health Services in Mansfield.

For the last 15 years, students from The Ohio State University College of Dentistry have helped staff the clinic through the OHIO Project.

Fourth-year dental students are required to work 50 days in various clinics throughout the state, focusing on under-served communities.

“We see people from all walks of life,” says Dr. David Hoag, who supervises the students at the clinic. “People who have had horrible tooth pain and avoided the dentist and now they’re back and we have no choice but to pull a tooth. We see people who never learned to go to the dentist and they wait until something hurts.”

The Mansfield dental clinic is open five days a week, and sees many low-income patients who don’t have dental insurance. (Photo by Debbie Holmes/WOSU)

Hoag is an Ohio State dental graduate; just eight years ago, he worked here as a student himself.

“The relationship that we form with the patients are great. Managing expectations is a huge part of our job,” Hoag says. “We get to see a lot of people who would otherwise go to the emergency room. So we’re diverting emergency room visits, which are very costly.”

Dr. Canise Bean, director of OHIO Project, says the program offers valuable experience for students.

“They do get a chance to treat patients that they would not ordinarily see in the dental clinic here at OSU,” Bean says. “They also have an opportunity to interact with different cultures. They often times work with interpreters at some of these locations.”

The Ohio Department of Health reports dental care remains the number one unmet health care need for children and at-risk populations. According to state health officials, 45 percent of Ohio adults do not have dental insurance.

Nationwide, 74 million Americans lack dental insurance, about three times the number who don’t have health insurance. As Chasing The Dream previously reported, failing to see a dentist regularly leads to lost wages and job opportunities, as well as increased chances for other health issues.

Since OHIO Project’s founding, about 1,700 dental students have treated 151,000 patients. The dental students performed 354,000 procedures and provided more than $17 million in dental services.

Bryant says she’s experienced more problems with her teeth since she underwent chemotherapy treatment, and has since found out she has several cavities.

She says she doesn’t know what she would do without the clinic.

“It would be not so great,” Bryant says. “Then where do you go to get your teeth fixed? I mean, it’s very expensive. So it’s nice to be able to come here, and even if you don’t have insurance they go by your income, so you’re still not footing the whole bill.”

Ohio State College of Dentistry student Elissa Rosner at the Mansfield clinic. (Photo by Debbie Holmes/WOSU)

Dental student Elissa Rosner says working at the clinic has made her more efficient.

“I’ve been learning on getting a lot quicker,” says Rosner. “In the school, we have like 3.5 hours per patient and here it’s 45 minutes. So, it’s been really great learning how to speed up and work quicker, but still work efficiently and do a great job.”

Among the procedures Rosner gets to practice: teeth extractions, which she says are pretty common here.

“Some patients haven’t had a lot of preventative dental care where they know how to like take care of their teeth,” Rosner says. “They haven’t been to the dentist in a while or are scared to come in and by the time they do, there’s nothing else you can really do for their teeth.”

Patients appreciate that the clinic is open Monday through, Friday and they can walk in if they have an emergency.

Shelia Conley, 66, recently drove 15 miles to the Mansfield clinic for a front tooth filling.

“I have to come back,” Conley says. “I’ve got a lot of cavities. I have to have fillings.”

Conley, a retired assembly-line worker, was long overdue for a visit: She hadn’t seen a dentist in 30 years.


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