'Externs' help clinic, community

August 23, 2009

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

The magnitude of the need for dental services locally hit home for student David Jones in 2003, when a Mission of Mercy program provided free services to more than 1,000 area residents.

Today, Jones is helping fill that need, here and elsewhere.

Jones is a fourth-year student in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry, due to graduate in May. He also is the student coordinator for the Mission of Mercy program at VCU.

Mission of Mercy is a public/private project designed to provide comprehensive health services to the uninsured, underinsured and unemployed. Jones has taken part in more than 25 of its events similar to the one held in Martinsville six years ago.

That event also spawned the creation of the Piedmont Virginia Dental Health Foundation clinic in Martinsville, which opened in 2006.

Last week, Jones worked there as a dental extern, serving people who cannot afford to see a private practice dentist.

“I love it. There’s nothing else I’d rather being doing,” said Jones, the son of local orthodontist David Jones and his wife, Karen Jones.

The younger Jones said he always wanted to give back to his hometown, and dentistry was a good way to do that.

He and the other dental students do one- or two-week rotations at dental clinics around the state as part of their training. Here, the five students each served eight patients a day.

Throughout the day, the students pulled teeth, filled cavities, did root canals and other procedures. Some patients needed checkups; others were there for return visits.

They worked under the guidance of local dentists who volunteer at the clinic and its new full-time dentist, Dr. Risa L. Odum.

“It’s a pretty awesome place,” said Dr. Jones, David’s father, who volunteers at the clinic. “The way it’s set up, the students are able to do more here under great supervision. They get experience in all phases of general dentistry.”

Jones also said most of the people served by the clinic have no other option for dental care. He credited Dr. Mark Crabtree, president of the dental health foundation, for creating the clinic.

Local dentist Dr. James Shearer of Martinsville volunteers at the clinic and, like Jones, his son, Ryan, did rotations there when he was a VCU dental student. Ryan Shearer now is in private practice in Warrenton.

The clinic is serving a tremendous need in the community, James Shearer said. “The volume is much greater than you can do as an individual” dentist, he added.

In addition, the dental students gain real-world experience and learn things that are not necessarily taught in dental school, Shearer said. They pick up speed and are able to see more patients than often is possible in dental school, he said.

When his son did externships in Martinsville and elsewhere, “he felt great about being able to be on his own a little more, seeing patients and helping fill the need in other areas,” Shearer added.

Dr. Raymond F. Mallinak’s daughters also did rotations at the clinic while in school. He could not be reached for comment.

Most of the students said they were a little surprised at the extent of the needs among residents here, although some said they were warned and others said the needs are similar throughout the state.

And some people are more needy than others. Student Natasha Kapoor, 25, of Long Island, N.Y., saw a 17-year-old patient who had cavities in all her teeth. She wanted to have them all pulled and get dentures instead of having the cavities filled, Kapoor said. Other patients, some in their early 20s, also had extensive decay.

“They come at the last minute,” she said, but added that it is good they are trying to get help and improve.

Student Edward Jordan, 30, of Winston-Salem, N.C., said he liked the clinic’s fast pace and meeting new people. He and several others also mentioned that the Martinsville clinic is the best they have been to in terms of up-to-date technology, with electronic records, digital X-rays and other features.

And they all praised the renovated accommodations above the Fayette Street clinic, calling them the best they had in their rotations around the state. For instance, Kapoor said, in the Northern Neck, they stayed in a mobile home, in Norfolk they were in a hotel, and in Lynchburg they stayed in a hospital.

Marjorie Barker, 33, of Richmond, the dental hygiene student, noted that all the patients she worked with appreciated her services.

“Every town needs something like” the Martinsville clinic, she added.


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