Outside of a temporary pop-up clinic at a Cookeville, Tennessee high school, patients had been sleeping in cars and waiting upwards of 24-hours for medical, dental, and vision care. This level of need is pervasive in the areas of Appalachia visited by Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine in its 10 years of partnership with Remote Area Medical (RAM). “Many of these patients only see a dentist when a RAM event comes to town,” explained Dr. Scott Firestone, clinical assistant professor. “Some travel hundreds of miles, arriving in the middle of the night to get a ticket of admission.”
RAM, a nonprofit organization, aligns with skilled healthcare providers to meet its mission to prevent pain and alleviate suffering by providing free, quality healthcare to those in need. The two-day event outside of Nashville provided over $500,000 worth of services to nearly 1,000 patients. Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine students and faculty contributed an estimated 300 extractions and 400 restorations.
“The whole experience was exceptionally humbling,” said student Junaid Rajani. According to Junaid, the outreach mission in Cookeville helped him to gain a first-hand understanding of the barriers to care faced by Americans in more rural areas of the United States. “I was shocked to see the number of patients that had waited all night to be seen for immediate dental care.”
“The most impactful interaction that I had throughout the mission was with a young woman in her thirties,” expressed student Parandis Nejati. According to Parandis, the patient’s history of drug use and as a domestic abuse survivor had left her with many non-restorable teeth. “Her look of relief and appreciation once I treated her was unforgettable,” said Parandis.
“I strongly believe that as health care providers, we have an obligation to help those less fortunate than us and to have dental students participate in these missions is of paramount importance,” said Dr. Gabriele Conte, clinical assistant professor. “Not only are they learning how to handle difficult extractions and operative procedures, but more importantly, they are helping their fellow Americans,” he said.
Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine students and faculty participate in two to three RAM events per year, typically in Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee. Over 150 students have attended these outreach missions over the past decade, with the next mission scheduled for the fall of 2019.