LINC students help promote oral health care in Champaign

By F. Amanda Tugade

Taylor Salata said that as a kid, she was never afraid to go to the dentist. 

“But that’s only because both of my parents are dentists,” the sophomore in LAS said. She smiled from ear to ear and unveiled impeccably white teeth behind moisturized, unchapped lips. 

As a result of declaring a leadership studies minor, Salata discovered ENG 315, an elective class for her minor that is otherwise known as “LINC,” or Learning in Community. The curriculum offers project-based classes for University students. Each project has ties with local partners. 

Naturally, Salata was drawn to SmileHealthy, a Champaign-based, nonprofit organization that helps families with oral health needs. 

“We have been working together (with LINC) for about four years now,” said Nancy Greenwalt, executive director of SmileHealthy.  

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    Greenwalt said that this isn’t a normal three-credit hour class. Students, like Salata, work with project managers throughout an entire semester to promote oral health care for children. 

    She said that four projects took place this fall semester, which catered to each student’s interests. 

    Students involved with the SmileHealthy Mobile Dental Clinics project  updated the mobile unit, which provides general dental services like cleanings or fluoride treatments for families in the C-U community.   

    “We decided that we wanted to make the mobile clinic more compact, and train the volunteers to actually unload the equipment,” she said. 

    Salata said that she and other students did even the smallest of tasks, which make a large impact. 

    “We (also) wanted to make it (the equipment) more easily accessible,” Salata said, adding that she and other students helped organize the equipment by making labels and tags. “So that volunteers — or even me — if I looked at it, I could assemble it,” she said. 

    Another project involved partnering with Promise Healthcare, a service organization that promotes Medicaid expansion, Salata said. The third project entailed students collaborating with the organization Donate to Dental Service and looking for ways to obtain dentures for the program’s clients. In both projects, students designed and created brochures that provided helpful information about purchasing low-cost dentures, as well as facts on Promise Healthcare’s free medicine program.  

    Salata said the project she worked on was in partnership with the Head Start Dental Clinic, a clinic that focuses on caring for families without health/dental insurance in Rantoul, Ill. 

    “We wanted to make (the office) a little more kid-friendly,” she said. Salata and her team painted the walls of the clinic and put up decals of trees and animals to make it livelier and “more welcoming.” 

    “It’s a serious thing (being afraid of the doctor),” Salata said. 

    Brittany Burd, senior in LAS, has worked alongside Salata this semester and has been a SmileHealthy volunteer since January 2013. 

    As a volunteer, Burd works closely with SmileHealthy’s Education Coordinator Jeana Shroyer and Volunteer Manager Rovee Fabi. 

    “I’ve created several educational PowerPoint presentations and handouts for events, such as college health fairs,” Burd said. “I also formatted lesson plans to teach parents of children, ages 0 to 3, about proper dental care,” she said. 

    Burd said a consistent challenge she has faced in her volunteer work and projects is “targeting the audience” (and) making sure that her presentations appeal to the appropriate age groups. 

    Greenwalt recalled a previous LINC class that created an oral health campaign for teenagers, which was “edgy and topical.” 

    “They talked about tobacco use, oral piercings and drug use,” Greenwalt said. 

    She said that these are situations that teens face in their own lives.

    Salata and Burd said that, as LINC students, creating a dialogue and being an active listener is important for their projects’ goals to be met, but sometimes, projects take more than a semester to make it happen. 

    Salata explained she was also working on a side project this semester, where she tried to raise money for SmileHealthy to obtain Nitrus, commonly known as “laughing gas.” Nitrus is used to help “stabilize” and “soothe” children for dental procedures like “pulling out a tooth” or “removing cavities,” Salata said. Salata said SmileHealthy has been looking to acquire Nitrus to broaden their services, but the resource is not in their budget.

    Although she was unsuccessful in raising any money, Salata was able to spread the word about the organization’s need for Nitrus and build relationships with other dental partners interested in donating to SmileHealthy in the future.  

     “That’s the thing,” Salata said. “You get attached. You feel bad when things don’t turn out the way you’d hope.” 

    Despite the challenges, Salata said that she plans to continue working on the Nitrus fundraiser even after the semester is over. 

    And that’s what makes LINC classes so special, according to Greenwalt. 

    “They teach you about life beyond finals,” she said.

    Amanda can be reached at [email protected]