Tennessee Smiles Oral Health Outreach Initiative at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center Screens More Than 400 People in Past 12 Months

Tennessee Smiles
Members of the College of Dentistry pose with a participant on National Give Kids A Smile Day, held in February 2015. The event is a component of Tennessee Smiles, a grassroots oral health outreach initiative at UTHSC.

Tennessee Smiles, a grassroots oral health outreach initiative at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), is continuing its efforts to provide community dental services and educate adults and children on oral health care. The program, operated through the UTHSC College of Dentistry, provided dental screenings at churches, elementary schools and other organizations in the greater Memphis area to more 400 individuals over the last 12 months, bringing the total service numbers to 11,000 since the program began more than 15 years ago, according to its 2014-2015 annual report.

Screenings include examinations of the oral cavity, and sometimes include checking blood pressure. Representatives from the Colleges of Pharmacy and Nursing also attended the events and checked blood pressure and blood glucose, calculated body mass index, and provided counseling about medications and other health care issues. When the Tennessee Smiles team was not available to attend community events and dental products were available, the products were given to a representative from the sponsoring organization. Dental oral health care products usually consisted of toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, denture adhesive, and mouthrinses when available. Dental and medical health care information were also provided.

Initiated by Waletha Wasson, DDS, MPA, MS, associate professor in the Department of Restorative Dentistry at UTHSC, faculty, student doctors and staff have performed approximately 10,921 dental screenings and spread awareness of the importance of oral health to more than 11,000 individuals at approximately 380 community events since 2000.

“Over 15 years ago, our journey began to provide individuals in underserved communities with dental screenings, samples of dental products, and dental literature infused with medical information,” said Dr. Wasson. “Our goal was to have individuals come to know and understand that oral home care is the beginning of better overall health. We have come to realize that all individuals, regardless of their socioeconomic status and educational attainment, need to become more health literate and, specifically, dental literate. We are always seeking to improve the Tennessee Smiles Program through increased collaboration with other health care disciplines and to engage as many students, staff, and faculty as possible in community health care events. When multiple health care disciplines work together for the good of the community, the possibilities for positive outcomes are endless. We are so fortunate that the deans of our colleges and the chancellor of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center support the mission of community engagement efforts in our city and the state.”

Numbers from the 2014-2015 report are as follows:

Dental: Engagement activities of volunteers:

  • Individuals screened                                            426
  • Dental products given

–       Toothbrushes                                             2,809

–       Toothpaste                                             2,790

–       Mouthrinse                                                 40

–       Floss                                                        149

–       Denture adhesive                                        55

  • IMPRESSIONS Program – introduces prospective students to the UTHSC curriculum and field of dentistry — 7 college students (6 from the University of Memphis and 1 from Arkansas State University)
  • “Give Kids A Smile” Day: February 2015

–       Children receiving at least one dental procedure         67

–        Procedures performed                                             544

–       Value of services performed                               $12,955