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Pre-Dental Students Create Community Project to Improve Dental Care Accessibility

Mariah Sharp, a fourth year anthropology and biological sciences student, and Sara Phung, a second year biological sciences student, have recently established the Anteater Smile Project, which is a volunteer-based community project that aims to improve dental care accessibility. 

The project is hosted by UCI’s Tau Sigma National Honor Society and is facilitated by a collaboration between Sharp, who is the Tau Sigma’s events coordinator, and fourth year biological sciences student Sarah Batarseh, who is the Tau Sigma’s community service coordinator.

According to Phung, the project was created as a response to the social injustices and racial discriminations in dental care that arose at the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“Numerous obstacles that prevent access of dental care accumulate, especially for minority groups,” Phung said. “Inequities in health include, but are not limited to, different diagnosis, low accessibility, education barriers, transportation obstacles, different treatment plans, and lower overall quality of care.”

In studying anthropology, Sharp has “spent a lot of time trying to connect her passions into a project that could really make a difference in someone’s life and in their health.”

She previously conducted a mini-ethnography in efforts to understand the barriers that UCI students may face in obtaining dental care.

“I found that many barriers can accrue, especially for families that either don’t have access to affordable dental care, quality dental care, or lack of education regarding oral health,” Sharp said.

According to Phung, the organization will provide informative resources to overcome financial barriers and guide community members through dental care issues. For example, Sharp noted that students with USHIP are able to get two free teeth cleanings at UCI’s dental clinic twice a year. Through the use of Zoom workshops and blogs, the group plans to spread awareness and educate others on various oral health topics including flossing and other oral care products. 

“We hope to design a website where people can find locations of free/low-cost clinics, dental insurance explanations, transportation/bus system info, and more,” Phung said.

Committee members recently completed the project’s first fundraiser via Instagram stories and are working to sell stickers on campus in a second fundraiser.

“We will also be hosting donation drives to collect dental care items, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, and mouthwash, to distribute to those who need them,” Phung said.

In the remote setting, the project has looked to social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.

“[It’s] difficult to create the same in-person atmosphere online, but we hope to utilize social media and virtual platforms to … ensure the project’s success,” Phung said.

The Anteater Smiles Project hopes to partner with local free and reduced clinics by providing them with PPE and supplies to operate in the future. Currently, they are working on translating their website into different languages to reach a wider audience. 

Rachel Vu is a Campus News Intern for the 2020 Fall Quarter. She can be reached at rnvu@uci.edu.