NAU, AZ MOM keep Flagstaff smiling with free dental care event (VIDEO)

President Cheng meets with volunteers

June 10, 2019

This weekend, Northern Arizona University opened the doors of its Rolle Activity Center to host a two-day event providing free dental care to hundreds of northern Arizona community members. Working 12-hour days on June 7 and 8, volunteers treated patients with dental issues small and large. The university partnered with the Arizona Dental Mission of Mercy (AZ MOM) and a number of local sponsors to create an event that brought the community together, helped neighbors in need and provided NAU students an invaluable learning opportunity.

dental chairs in Rolle Activity Center

For the event, Rolle Activity Center was transformed into a 50-chair dental clinic. Treatments included fillings, cleanings, extractions, root canals, X-rays and denture fittings. All members of the community in need of dental care were welcome without restriction or prior qualifications, and patients were not screened for insurance status, income level or residency status.

The CDAS Foundation reported:

  • 616 patients served
  • $650,000 in free dental services (approximately)
  • $1,055 in free dental services per patient, on average
  • 57 crowns
  • 68 dentures
  • 30 root canals
  • 568 extracted teeth

Student volunteers were involved at every level, getting hands-on experience working with patients in a supervised, real-life setting. In addition to dental hygiene students, nursing students performed health assessments on patients checking in and physical therapy students screened patients for temporomandibular disorder, a pain in the jaw joint and muscles that control jaw movement.

“We are modeling interprofessional practice, which is the wave of the future,” said Lynda Ransdell, dean of the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS). “The most effective patient care is now done in an interprofessional setting whereby the whole patient is treated based on their overall health. Clinicians from a variety of disciplines gather together to discuss optimal and holistic treatment.”

It’s not just CHHS that helped out, either. Along with the dental hygiene department and the College of Nursing, NAU PD, parking services, facility services and ITS all had leadership roles in planning and implementing this monumental task.

Patients getting treated at clinic

The idea to bring AZ MOM, a central Arizona-based organization, north started with President Rita Cheng. She’d heard of the dental events in Phoenix and thought the people of northern Arizona could benefit from the same type of care. Cheng brought Ransdell and dental hygiene chair Tracye Moore on board to figure out how NAU could make this happen for the Flagstaff community. The group saw the significant need for dental care in the area, Ransdell said, as well as the expansive community of dentists and dental hygienists willing to help provide just that.

“A new smile allows these patients to get a job, interact with friends and family again and no longer be in pain,” Cheng said. “Thank you to the hundreds of dentists and other community members who volunteer for this and other events thought the year.”

The result of the community’s collective efforts was the first AZ MOM North dental event taking place on the NAU campus, coordinated by assistant clinical professor of dental hygiene Amy Smith. On the planning committee with Smith were dental hygienists and NAU alumnae Kim Freeman and Jenny Garcia, who also is an adjunct dental hygiene instructor. Among several community partners were the Central Arizona Dental Society Foundation, which helped NAU with organization and implementation, and the Arizona Dental Association and Northern Arizona Dental Society, which offered consultation.

AZ MOM shutdown/cleanup crew
The event shutdown/clean-up crew

“This event provided a wonderful opportunity for the community to work together to provide dental care, which is linked to many other aspects of physical health,” Ransdell said. “Our students were volunteers and learned about giving back to the community and the powerful impact that can have.”

Cheyenne Jarrette