Members of Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine's student body, faculty, and staff provided much-needed oral health services to 100+ patients in rural Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
June 2019 - As part of its national outreach initiatives, Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine conducts annual missions to Pine Ridge, South Dakota to provide oral health care to underserved residents. Pine Ridge is located within an Oglala Lakota Native American Reservation, a reservation which maintains an unemployment rate hovering around 80% with much of the population below the national poverty line. The counties that comprise the reservation are among the poorest in the nation, and its residents are left with minimal access to healthcare, including oral healthcare.
The outreach mission to Pine Ridge allowed Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine team members to provide care to over 100 patients who were seen for the fabrication of dentures and partial dentures, denture repairs, the extraction of non-restorable teeth, fillings, and cleanings. "Each of our patients walked out with a big smile," said student Junaid Rajani.
This year marked two decades of annual visits by Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine teams to the area. In recognition of their years of dedicated service to the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe, Chris Noga, Dental Technician, Dr. Mary Truhlar, Dean, and Dr. John Foti, Clinical Assistant Professor, each received a star quilt. For the Lakota people, the star quilt represents honor and generosity and serves as a reminder of the significance and honor that comes from giving to others.
"It is a tremendous honor to be recognized in this way and to always be so very welcomed by the people of Pine Ridge," said Dr. Truhlar. "In addition to providing much-needed healthcare services, we are able to pass on the culture of giving back to our dental students by enriching their education with this service program experience."
According to student Anthony Bogdan, his time providing care in Pine Ridge has helped him to become a better dentist through a broadening of his perspective. "We see our limited population of patients, and for many of us, that's the most we have experienced," he explained. "It's a privilege to be able to attend these outreach missions and an honor to be able to treat these patients."
For Junaid, vastly improving his clinical skillset was invaluable. "This trip allowed me to learn and feel more comfortable with removable prosthodontics for my patients," said Junaid. "It was quite amazing to see the result of a week's hard work and seeing the final denture highlighted the importance of and reasoning for each step of the process."
The outreach mission took place at the Pine Ridge Indian Health Services Hospital facility over 12 days. Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine's team also took the opportunity to further explore the area and culture with trips to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Badlands National Park. "The entire experience in South Dakota was amazing and very rewarding," reflected Anthony.