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February 4, 2009

New Year, New You: ULM Dental Hygiene Clinic improves oral health of region

(Note: This article is the fourth in a series, “New Year, New You,” aimed at raising awareness of opportunities that could improve the health of residents in northeast Louisiana. An annual report issued in December ranked Louisiana as the unhealthiest state in the nation. February is National Children’s Dental Health Month.)

On a chilly Wednesday afternoon, twenty-six-year-old Marbrae Wilson of Amite reclines in an examination chair and opens his mouth wide.

Wilson is a familiar face to Stephanie Patrick of Epps, a fourth-year dental hygiene student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. The student inquires how Wilson is doing as she slips on her mask and goggles and grabs one of the dental instruments that are essential to the profession she has chosen.

Wilson’s bright smile shows evidence this is not his first trip to the ULM Dental Hygiene Clinic; When he first visited the clinic some years ago, his gums were bleeding.

“It’s a lot better now,” he acknowledged.

But the dental hygiene student is only one member of a team that helps protect the oral health of residents from across the region at the clinic.

Dr. Howard John operates a private practice in Monroe and serves as a part-time instructor for the clinic. He said a patient’s overall health is linked to their oral health, but oral health is often the most neglected.

In fact, a recent U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on the state of oral health in America noted its integral link to the well being of all Americans, along with research that has pointed to possible associations between chronic oral infections and diabetes, heart and lung diseases, stroke, and low-birth weight, premature births.

Lack of dental care is not often identified as life threatening and therefore perceived as less important, explained Dr. John.

Another barrier, according to Dental Hygiene Clinic Coordinator Sharon Chaney, is lack of access, especially for Louisianans who fit into low-income and/or minority populations.

That’s one reason Dr. John is not shy about recommending a visit to the clinic for frequent, routine cleanings, where ULM students can offer their valuable services at reduced rates, while getting needed training before entering the workforce.

In addition to teeth cleaning, the clinic offers X-rays, fluoride treatments, cancer screening, patient education and nutritional counseling.

“It can save an individual a lot of money,” said Dr. John. “It doesn’t hurt my feelings one bit for one of my patients to come here, especially if that patient has children … it’s really a good community service.”

The clinic is located at 125 Caldwell Hall on the ULM campus. In an effort to reach as many children and adults as possible, supervised students also visit the Ouachita Parish Health unit and Riser Elementary and Middle School.

For more information about the clinic or to schedule a visit call 318-342-1616 or visit

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