Western University dental students with their smiling We Care Dental patient

Western University dental students with their smiling
We Care Dental patient

When 24-year-old Western University dental student Angela Hastings started volunteering at the We Care Dental Center in Rancho Mirage, she thought the experience would help increase her clinical knowledge and dental skills.

What she didn’t expect was that it would also help her develop an intense feeling of compassion for developmentally disabled children and adults–a group that regularly faces difficulties obtaining dental care, either because they don’t have dental insurance or can’t find a dentist who will treat them. “I didn’t realize there was such a need for specialized dental care,” Hastings said.

The volunteer program is part of Western University’s community outreach.

Dr. Timothy Martinez, Dean of Community Outreach, said the university’s volunteer work at We Care Dental Center fills a critical need, not only for student training, but as a community service. He said the university is working to create a new generation of dentists who are in tune with the needs of developmentally disabled individuals.

“Hopefully, we can instill compassion and humanism so they welcome these patients in their practices,” Dr. Martinez said adding that the volunteer experience also helps provide students with real life experiences beyond the classroom or at the university.

We Care Dental was established by Desert Friends of the Developmentally Disabled in 2010 in an effort to provide free dental services to developmentally disabled adults and children. The state-of-the-art clinic is staffed by three Coachella Valley dentists who volunteer their time to treat the uninsured and underinsured developmentally disabled in Riverside County. State statistics indicate that 88 percent of disabled children and adults have unmet dental needs.

Working under the supervision of Dr. Martinez, Western University students provide We Care Dental patients with dental cleanings, examinations, and fillings, as well as root canals and tooth extractions.

“Dentists often sedate these patients for general procedures because they require patience and a bit more time,” says Martinez. “We’re not sedating them for general cleaning and exams. They receive the same respect as others, and if it requires more time and holding hands, our students are glad to oblige.”

Student Marjan Hessamian had a similar experience volunteering at the We Care Dental Center. “I remember one mother who broke down and said, ‘Thank you! I really appreciate what you are doing here.’ It was the first time her daughter had ever received a general dental cleaning without sedation.”

The We Care Dental Center is located in Rancho Mirage at 42-900 Bob Hope Drive, Suite 111 (behind the Rancho Las Palmas Shopping Center). Visit www.dfddnow.org or call 760.565.6055. For more information on the community outreach efforts of Western University’s School of Dentistry, please contact Dr. Martinez at (909) 706-3820.

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