Students from the University of New England recently aided a collaborative effort to deliver oral health supplies to more than 40,000 children across Maine.
Health professions students in the Care for the Underserved Pathway (CUP) Maine Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Scholar Honors Distinction program joined over 100 organizations in assembling dental health kits for children in need who are unable to access routine oral health care due to COVID-19.
The CUP AHEC Scholars program provides opportunities for UNE health professions students to work with underserved populations in rural Maine communities. The two-year program is delivered through the Maine AHEC Network, a workforce development program aimed at alleviating health care workforce shortages, at the UNE Center for Excellence in Public Health.
Students who participate in the CUP AHEC Scholars program are given opportunities to better understand and address health disparities in rural and underserved communities, such as the lack of oral health care services experienced by many around the state.
Using strict social distancing protocols, Maine AHEC Scholars volunteered their time at The Opportunity Alliance in Portland on June 1.
Dental disease is the most common chronic disease among children, and the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented many families in need from seeking dental care due to expenses. Therese Renaud (D.O., ’23), a second-year student in the UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine (UNE COM), said prior experience with the CUP AHEC Scholars program taught her about the need to provide oral health care for children in Maine.
“When I heard recently that many children around the state have not been able to access routine oral health care during the pandemic, I was eager to see how I could help to distribute oral health supplies to children in need,” said Renaud.
Dental supplies were delivered to 44,000 children across the state through The Partnership for Children’s Oral Health, a network of partners from hospital systems, state government, universities, and the dentistry and public health fields. The kits were distributed by collaborating with school meal distribution programs.
“This was a monumental effort on behalf of all our partners,” said Kalie Hess, associate director of the Partnership for Children’s Oral Health. “We are grateful for the UNE CUP AHEC Scholars who volunteered as well as for the outpouring of support from schools, funders, and our team, who helped us organize and distribute these materials across the state.”
Amber Lombardi ’18 (Dental Hygiene), RDH, oral health manager at the Opportunity Alliance, said oral health is essential to overall health and that the kits will help prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and other serious dental problems.
“These kits will help meet thousands of children’s basic oral health needs, because something as small as a toothbrush can change the life and outcome for a child,” Lombardi said.
In addition to Renaud, other participating students include UNE COM Class of ’23 students Adrian Hale, Camille LeBlanc, and Kristen Kelliher and College of Dental Medicine Class of ’21 student Logan Wilson.