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UK Dentistry's Saturday Morning Clinics Benefit Students, Community

Jordin Sparks

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Protecting the oral health of children is an investment that pays lifelong dividends. Unfortunately, many families in central Kentucky face access to care barriers that prevent children from receiving the treatment they need. To combat these barriers, students, faculty and staff from the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry (UKCD) provide free dental care to under-served children in the Lexington community via the Saturday Morning Clinic (SMC) program.

Saturday Morning Clinics have been a tradition at UKCD since 1976. For over four decades, students have promoted oral health and awareness while giving back to the community. Currently, the program provides care to children ages 4-12 providing an array of services: cleanings, fluoride treatments, sealants and restorative procedures are all available.

Saturday Morning Clinics not only provide vital treatment for children, but education on how families can do more to protect the oral health of generations to come. In the 2017-2018 academic year, when the clinic took place once every other month, volunteers served over 160 pediatric patients. Due to need in the community, the college looks to increase the number of children served as they hold monthly Saturday Morning Clinics.

Erica Ribenboim, a second-year DMD student and member of UKCD's pediatric dentistry club, described the impact that safety net programs like Saturday Morning Clinics have on the communities they serve:

"Many people don't have access to proper dental care or simply haven't been educated about the best ways to care for their oral health...With regular checkups, early detection and proper education, we can change these negative statistics and help prevent the next generation from facing a future of health problems and tooth loss."

Children are not the only ones who benefit from the SMC program. An observational component gives pre-dental students across the region the opportunity to visit UKCD for a firsthand look at clinic operations. Student dentists volunteering at the clinics find that the experience greatly enhances their overall view of dentistry.

Fourth-year DMD student Morgan Murrell explained, "Children pose unique challenges when providing dental treatment. However, the reward of restoring a tiny smile or getting a child out of pain so they were able to return to school made me realize my passion for pediatrics."

Murrell, who is also one of the student coordinators for the SMC program, plans to pursue a pediatric residency upon graduation. She credits her passion for working with children to volunteering at SMC during her first year of dental school.

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