Most Viewed Stories
Reasons to smile
AYUDA helps Terra Bella children with dental services
TERRA BELLA — Students at Terra Bella Elementary have one more reason to smile. For the fifth consecutive year, University of Southern California dental students traveled to Terra Bella to make a difference in the lives and mouths of students.
AYUDA — Spanish for “help” — includes third- and fourth-year dental students who volunteer to work on children at 14 portable clinics, one of which is held for three days each March in the cafeteria at Terra Bella Elementary.
“It is wonderful to see young adults who will be doctors tomorrow, but today, they are giving of their time so that our kids’ mouths don’t hurt,” said Frank Betry, superintendent of the Terra Bella School District. “They work with our kids. They love our kids. They do a marvelous job of making sure these kids have strong and healthy teeth for a lifetime.”
The cost to the district is approximately $15,000 of travel, food and lodging, but an itemized statement at the end of three days is always more than $150,000 worth of services, he said.
“We’re taking care of dental problems, and the kids are seeing competent college students who are compassionate about them and love what they are doing,” said Harris Done, president and CEO of AYUDA Inc. who has also been teaching at USC for 35 years. “For many of these kids, this is the first time they have ever been to a dentist.”
The temporary clinic — offering a digital X-ray area, plus 16 stations, complete with dental chairs, lights and tables with distilled water, portable suction and evacuation systems, and all the dental equipment found at dental offices — can handle everything from simple to extensive dental services.
“These 40 students are top junior and senior students at USC. All of the technique we use at USC dental school, we have here,” Done said. “We can do fillings — anterior and posterior, stainless steel crowns, pulpotomies, root canals on older children, tooth extractions, flora varnishes and sealants. We also offer oral hygiene education and will give away about 1,000 toothbrushes.”
Lupe Shaffer, the district’s registered school nurse, was instrumental in bringing the program to the school after hearing about it at a nurse conference.
“She told us there’s a neat place with real needs,” Done said about Terra Bella. “Parents do not have a lot of money here, and the school district doesn’t have much money, but the need is great. We see 600 patients in three days here — that takes care of most of the school district.”
To qualify to participate, the dental students must volunteer at local Southern California clinics on Saturdays.
“They are dedicated and totally interested in the child’s well being. They need very little supervision but we still check everything they do, before they start, the technique, and the end product,” Done said. “Our students are so compassionate. They’ve never met a patient they could not work with.”
The students provide approximately $2,000 worth of work, not counting the time involved, Done said.
Done said he visits corporations and raises $50,000 every year to help with the portable clinics, and, with a $30,000 gift from Anaheim Rotary Club, AYUDA can provide the dental services.
Former school board member Yolanda Bocanegra, who was also instrumental in getting AYUDA to Terra Bella five years ago, said the students had major dental problems the first year.
“Since then, we are seeing less and less,” said Bocanegra, adding that she has volunteered at the clinic since its inception at the school. “The USC students are so compassionate. The students are calm. No one is crying. It’s a win-win for all of us.”
Nearby, as several children waited to be called, a USC student walked one young child out of the room. The 6-year-old smiled and said she was never scared.
“She was very brave, the best I’ve had all day,” said USC student Marissa Schragg. “This is great. It is such a wonderful opportunity to learn and help. I’m enjoying working with this group.”
Penelope Garcia, 9, who was also leaving the room, said she was a little scared at first but once she was in the dental chair, she relaxed and it was fun.
“It’s a blessing. It really is. Having the students get services that they truly need, and aside from that, getting the hygiene — we are thrilled to have them on our campus. It’s become a tradition here and we appreciate them,” said school Principal Juan Flores.
AYUDA was founded in 1967, with Done as one of 13 original founding members. He would fly to Guatemala four times a year to offer dental services. In 1987, AYUDA began serving communities and school children. Since then, more than 300,000 people have been helped.
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.