WASHINGTON – Watching America’s treatment of migrant families, Howard University pediatric dental resident Jose Garcia (DDS ’19) recalled feeling a deep sense of injustice. These families had embarked on long journeys to seek asylum at the U.S. border only to be met with the horrors of family separations, and even instances of migrant children reported missing.
“Some families were pushed onto busses headed all the way to the DMV, where they were simply left out on the side of road without help or instructions,” said Garcia, who himself was born in Ecuador and immigrated to the United States with his mother at seven –months old. “I decided I wanted to sign up to be a volunteer because I wanted to help. It hit close to home because I feel like I could relate to them a little bit.”
After months of volunteer work, Garcia’s service culminated on February 11 at the College of Dentistry’s annual Give Kids A Smile event which was dedicated exclusively to serving children from migrant families who were bussed to the DMV last year. Garcia said 95 children were provided free-of-charge dental care. Most received preventative care such as check-ups, cleaning, fluoride treatment, and sealants. In addition, about 32 needed emergency treatment, including extractions of infected teeth, treatment of chipped teeth, and crowns. About 70 Howard dental students, from all academic levels, participated in the event.
Give Kids A Smile events are held throughout the nation in February – National Children’s Dental Health Month, and is the largest single event focused on children and dental care.
“This event is an annual highlight for the Howard University College of Dentistry,” said Dean Andrea D. Jackson DDS, MS, FACP, FACD, FICD. “This has turned out to be a wonderful way to give back and treat people who are underserved and have had years of neglect. That’s what we stand for. We hope we can continue to treat them and that they become patients of record at the college.”
Garcia’s volunteer work has mostly centered around offering translation or help with transportation. As a dentist, he started to notice the needs for dental care, particularly the kids. Many hadn’t seen a dentist after months of arduous travel from their home countries to the United States. They would ask for toothbrushes and toothpaste, mention dental problems, or inquire about the possibility of oral care check-ups.
“I would even notice it when the kids smiled. You could see the cavities,” he said. “As a dentist, you are always conscious of the dental needs of people. I began thinking of all the ways that I could help them.”
But as he kept volunteering and seeing more and more kids, he said he eventually realized the problem was adding up to more than anything he could take on as a lone dentist. He proposed the idea of making the migrant children the focus of this year’s Give Kids A Smile event to LaToya Barham, DDS, who is associate professor, residency director, and chair of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry. “We had the same vision and she helped turn the idea into reality,” he said. “That’s what I learned here at Howard, if you are surrounded with people with the same vision, anything is possible.”
Barham, who participated in the college’s very first Give Kids A Smile event as a Howard dental student 20 years ago, said that in addition to providing much needed care, an important goal of the project was to cultivate leadership skills among students and residents.
“Every year we are committed to giving children smiles,” Barham said. “This year was so special because Dr. Garcia, one my residents, birthed the idea from his servant heart. So today, it’s a two-fold joy: bringing the smile to children, and seeing a resident grow in his service to the community.”
About Howard University
Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 14 schools and colleges. Students pursue more than 140 programs of study leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. The University operates with a commitment to Excellence in Truth and Service and has produced two Schwarzman Scholars, four Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 12 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard also produces more on-campus African American PhD recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, visit www.howard.edu.
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