A group of faculty and students from the School of Dental Medicine completed their 10th consecutive trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota where they provided free dental care to members of the Lakota Sioux Tribe. The sites of rows of decayed teeth in children and countless lost teeth in adults is commonplace for the Lakota Sioux, but the efforts of the SB Dental Medicine team each summer has eased their oral health disease burden. The team has seen more than 1,500 patients and inserted close to 700 dentures at the reservation during the 10-year period.
The outreach program involves the School of Dental Medicine and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service (IHS). Lack of access to dental care and a diet laced with starches and sugar makes the Lakota Sioux in that region susceptible to serious dental decay. The IHS reports that a poor diet, high prevalence of diabetes, and a high unemployment rate all contribute to the poor oral health of Native Americans living on reservations in the American West.
“When you see the smiles on the faces of these most stoic people, the experience touches your heart,” said Denise Trochesset, assistant professor, Department of Oral Biology and Pathology, and a lead member of the team for the South Dakota outreach program. “The students and entire SBU dental staff do a tremendous job and see wonderful results immediately for many of those we treat.”
During their two-week 2009 visit to the reservation, Trochesset, John Foti, laboratory technician Vincent Verderosa, and eight students provided a host of oral care services to more than 100 individuals. Each year different students accompany Trochesset and colleagues on the trip. This year they completed 70 partial and complete denture insertions, necessary extractions, and operative restorations. In addition, they performed routine oral health exams, cleanings, oral hygiene instruction, as well as covered clinic emergencies involving oral care and completed special pediatric procedures and prosthetic work.
In appreciation of the Dental School’s efforts and commitment to the dental care that the team provided for Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation residents for the past 10 years, the Tribal Council presented the 2009 team with handmade star quilts. According to Trochesset, the Stony Brook dental team’s reputation as a provider of top dental care is such that residents often wait a year in order to be seen by the team, particularly for dentures.
Since the SBU/IHS dental outreach program began at the reservation in 2000, approximately 60 students and six faculty have participated.