ECU dental students serve through Special Care in Dentistry Association
The East Carolina School of Dental Medicine’s chapter of the Special Care in Dentistry Association (SCDA) is making strides to ensure a special population of patients has the resources and access to care they need.
The dental school’s chapter of the SCDA is one of only 11 chapters recognized nationally through SCDA, which is made up of oral health professionals and students who are dedicated to promoting oral health and well-being for people with special needs. The organization includes representatives from the American Association of Hospital Dentists, the Academy of Dentistry for Persons with Disabilities, and the American Society for Geriatric Dentistry.
Third-year dental student Lydia Hartung’s passion for caring for patients from all backgrounds and circumstances led her to breathe life into the student organization last fall. This year, the group’s efforts to reach patients in their community are gaining speed in caring for patients in need of special accommodations due to physical, medical developmental or cognitive conditions, including individuals with mobility issues, the elderly, mentally disabled individuals, medically complex patients and children with behavioral or emotional conditions.
“The special care community is such an important yet underrepresented part of the dental profession,” said Hartung, president of ECU’s SCDA chapter and vice-student liaison for the national organization. “Education and early exposure are integral in ensuring that we, as part of the next generation of dental professions, are prepared and comfortable to treat special care patients who may present in our practice. That starts here, in Ross Hall.”
The dental school’s chapter of the SCDA hopes to provide resources to caretakers of patients with special needs, making it easier for them to pursue care for the patients.
“Many times, especially in underserved communities like eastern North Carolina, it can be difficult for the families of these patients to find efficient basic care for their loved ones,” Hartung said. “I found myself forlorn that this was the situation for such a large group of people in my own community. It really hit very close to home. I started pondering ways in which I could help to bring more awareness and advocacy to this community and their care. What better place to start than my own school?”
Hartung worked with the dental school’s Sukyung Moon, special care dentistry faculty member and clinical assistant professor, Maggie Pafford, associate dean for student affairs and Margaret Wilson, vice dean, to resurrect the organization at the school level that existed years ago but never achieved national status.
“As I learned more about special care dentistry, my interest caught like wildfire and I knew I had to find a way to become more involved,” Hartung said. “I worked to establish an executive board of incredible individuals who have a great interest in special care dentistry and treating and advocating for these patients.”
Dental student Chance Bryant said he joined the SCDA to get hands-on experience working with patients who have special needs.
“I have participated in several events this year; my personal favorite was the Greenville’s Exceptional Community Baseball League,” Bryant said. “We were able to be a buddy for a player during their games throughout the day. We were able to give back to the community, bond with the community and establish communication with the special care population. That is the ultimate goal of this club.”
Second-year dental student Tiffany Kurian serves as vice president of the school’ SCDA chapter.
“As dentists, we will 100% encounter individuals with special needs in our practice,” she said. “Yet each individual doesn’t fit into one box. Individuals with special needs encompass a variety of abilities so learning how to be flexible and meet them where they’re at as clinicians can be so beneficial.”
Kurian has participated in national events through the organization that help her imagine her own future practice — and the patients she will care for.
“I definitely can see myself integrating special care adaptions into my future practice,” she said. “I had the chance to attend the SCDA annual meeting this past spring, where there were vendors that showed technology catered towards special care dentistry. It ranged from creating a sensory operatory to a portable panoramic x-ray machine. It was really neat to see what is out there and to start thinking in what ways do I want to provide a welcoming environment to these individuals.”
The club’s inaugural Carnival for a Cause is slated for Saturday, Aug. 26 at Uptown Brewing Company in Greenville. The family event is free and open to the public, and food and game tickets will be sold to benefit the care of special needs patients at the ECU School of Dental Medicine.
Hartung hopes the event will raise awareness of a special patient population across the region and state.
“Many ECU dental graduates, including myself, plan to practice in areas that are underserved,” Hartung said. “In many of these areas, there exists not only a lack of dental professionals, but also a lack of dental and medical specialists. It is especially important, in these circumstances to ensure that we are primed to treat the special care community.”
Hartung said the drive to serve comes from meeting patients with specific challenges where they are, learning how best to adapt and care for them.
“There is an overflowing abundance of grace and thanks,” she said, “in every single interaction.”