At 76-years-old, Queen Crumb doesn’t get to the dentist very often.
“I usually don’t see a dentist, only when I have a tooth ache,” Crumb said.
So when she had a chance to have her teeth screened by Meharry student dentist Tisina Samaroo, through the school’s Adopt-A-Grandparent program, Crumb was ecstatic.
“This is really nice,” Crumb said during her visit. “I’ve never run across anything like it before.”
The Wilda Siebert Adopt -A-Grandparent Program began at Meharry nearly 30 years ago to provide much-needed dental care to low-income seniors. Since its inception, more than 2,000 seniors have received free dentures and screenings but officials say they have barely scratched the surface in meeting the need.
More than 172 seniors received free screenings this year. About 40 were eligible to receive free dentures and the others were put on a waiting list due to funding limitations.
“You can imagine how people are calling us to see how they can be a part of it,” said Dr. Sharon Carter, Chair of the Department of Dental Public Health who supervised the program this year. “When we have to put them on a waiting list it frustrates them.”
Adopt-A-Grandparent is made possible by a grant from the Kendall Fund Foundation, a part of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). UMCOR’s mission is to alleviate human suffering with open minds to all religions and open hearts to all people.
To be eligible, seniors must be at least 50 years old, live in Davidson County public housing and be referred by Peaches Manning, the resident area coordinator of the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency.
Grandparents in the program are paired with student dentists. Patients receive a free screening and students examine their mouths thoroughly to look for broken tooth fragments, lesions or any type of abnormalities. Those who need dentures are scheduled for a follow-up visit where a student dentist provides them with the new set of teeth.
Carter said the program benefits the students as well as the grandparents because students have to be competent in completing a denture and treating elderly patients.
In addition to enhancing their appearances and self-esteem, dentures serve a much greater benefit to seniors. They help seniors chew which ultimately helps with their food digestion. Dentures also improve their speech and communication.
Still, Carter said even the seniors who don’t require dentures enjoy the screening and love the annual field trip to Meharry.
“It almost becomes more of a social outing for the seniors,” Carter said. “I would like to personally thank Ms. Peaches Manning for her continued support in transporting and recruiting patients to the School of Dentistry for this program.”
Dee Dee Bass of Madison, who will turn 60 this year, was seen by student dentists Barron Banks and Dorian Solomon during Adopt-A-Grandparent Day in April. “They told me I could save my teeth, I thought, wow,” Bass said. “I’ve been through a lot with my teeth.”
Bass said she had her teeth wired in the past and she enjoyed being treated by Meharry students because they make her feel comfortable.
“If I ask a question, no one ever says, ‘I don’t know,’” Bass said. “They repeatedly ask if you are comfortable. I love that. It means a lot.”
Carter said she hopes to secure additional funding for the program so it can be expanded to seniors outside of Davidson County public housing.