Lynn Russell knows that even a small gift can make a big difference in someone’s life.
Last fall, she collaborated with the College of Dentistry, the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs, and the Office of Finance to establish the Dental Hygiene Community Fund. The fund provides x-rays, dental exams, and cleanings for Memphians in need.
“You see things on social media or on the news all the time about barbers giving someone a free haircut and how much better they felt afterward,” said Russell, RDH, MEd, EdD, chair and graduate program coordinator of the Department of Dental Hygiene in the College of Dentistry. “So I thought, we talk every day, we have to eat, and so many times we look at people’s teeth. Why not provide a service for our community?”
She also wanted to find a way for the typical dental hygienist to have the opportunity to give back to the college and the community.
The fund also helps dental hygiene students, because patients referred to the fund fit the criteria for teaching cases. Teaching cases are patients with unique dental care needs that are not typically seen in the majority of the patient population coming through the dental clinics.
“When I came here, I started giving back to the school, and in that process of donating back, it occurred to me that typically dental hygienists don’t give a lot of money back to the school,” said Dr. Russell, who is a dual UTHSC alumna (DH ’75 and BSDH ’77). “We are not the big-bucks earners, we usually don’t make six-figure salaries, so I thought there has to be a way you could give money to the school and know what it’s going to.”
Donations can start at any amount, but a donation of $25, will provide preventive dental treatment, which includes the x-ray, cleaning, and comprehensive exam, for those who otherwise would not be able to afford it.
“A lot of times, those people who need it the most, are the ones who can’t afford it,” Dr. Russell said. “Think about a single mom who has no money and maybe would feel so much better if she could get her teeth cleaned or have her children’s teeth taken care of. Typical, they find a way for their children, but mothers are always the last ones, dads, too. If it came down to if I were going to put food down on the table or have my teeth cleaned, I’m going to put food on the table for my children.”
This was the reality for one patient, who recently benefited from the fund. “When I spoke to one of our guys who recently received treatment, he told me this was the first time in his life that he has ever been to the dentist,” said Kevin Potter, area director for Safe Harbor of Memphis, a local recovery, support, and transitional housing program. Safe Harbor is one of the first in Memphis to benefit from the Dental Hygiene Community Fund. “This gentleman took care of himself, but he could never afford dental care. He was always on the street and had a part-time job, so he had to choose food over going to the dentist.”
Potter said, the fund can be life-changing. “Our guys feel like someone outside of our program cares about them, and that boosts their confidence,” he said. “It has been staggering to watch their faces light up.”
The College of Dentistry welcomes donations for the Dental Hygiene Community Fund. To make a donation please visit uthsc.edu/dental-hygiene-give.
Note: This story is from the most recent issue of Dentistry magazine.