• Never Too Busy To Care


    Over 40 University of Washington dental, medical, and pre-health students and faculty, along with volunteers from Greater Seattle Cares and Medical Teams International, gather for a group photo before serving Tent City 3 with free medical and dental care.
    Esther Yi/2017

    With Tent City 3 having recently transferred from UW to South Seattle, I am taking time to reflect on the opportunities we had as an organization to serve its residents. Though it’s already been six months, it seems like just yesterday Husky Health Bridge was formed. Back in November 2016 I was busy with academic and personal commitments when Marcus explained over lunch his aspirations for forming a club. Tent City 3 was coming to UW over the Winter, and he wanted comprehensive dental care waiting for them. I didn’t have the time, but something in me still said, “yes.”

    The amount of planning and at times sheer anxiety for what amounted to a committee of five student directors coordinating our first February 4th event was at times challenging. However, the magnitude of what was accomplished—26 Tent City 3 residents being treated that day by dental students, pre-health students, and UW School of Dentistry faculty—was incredible. Still, something was missing. Amidst the task of helping plan and oversee the event, I was unable to spend more time getting to know our Tent City 3 guests during their stay at UW.

     


    Teddy, who is brought in to provide comfort to patients during their dental procedures, sits calmly on a patient's lap as Dr. Jeffrey advises her student dentists.
    Esther Yi/2017

    It was after that event that I realized I had neglected my very purpose for joining HHB. Throughout the course of our planning, I had not interacted with residents of Tent City 3 as much as I intended. Luckily, we had one more event planned for March, providing me a second chance to get more involved on a more personal level.

    During the week leading up to our March event I paid a visit to the Tent City 3 office. At the south-end of campus—the entrance to a parking lot—TC3's white and blue tents came into view. It was a parking lot converted into a community. The front tent had a desk where I introduced myself to a few smiling residents. As I encouraged those at the front desk to spread the word for our upcoming event, a resident began speaking with me. He had received extractions on a number of severely infected upper teeth at our first clinic and was scheduled to get three more extractions at the next. That's when I learned first-hand about a very real concern that stigmatizes some homeless individuals.

    He showed me his smile, revealing numerous missing upper front teeth. In his life, the stigma of not having a healthy smile caused him many challenges. He shared with me that his missing teeth greatly reduced his confidence during job interviews. I don’t know what that would be like, but if you can imagine not having your front teeth and trying to find employment, you might agree that securing a job would be very difficult. Indeed, after speaking with a coordinator from Greater Seattle Cares, I confirmed that Tent City residents who receive dentures typically find employment and permanent housing within a couple months.

     


    Dr. Stewart evaluates a Tent City 3 resident as her student dentist looks on. Dedicated faculty advisors like Dr. Stewart oversee all treatment carried out by student dentists during UW School of Dentistry outreach events ensuring patients receive the highest quality of care during their procedures.
    Esther Yi/2017

    The price for dentures makes them relatively manageable financially compared to other popular prostheses like dental implants. However, not everyone has the time or resources required, and there is still much need for many Tent City residents who are missing their smiles to be fitted with dentures. I was pleased to hear that Greater Seattle Cares has been able to identify six residents from our March event who are eligible to receive dentures. Getting dentures is a long process involving several dental appointments, and thanks to Greater Seattle Cares, there is a system in place for following up with those in pursuit. We hope to find a charitable dental office with a big heart willing to donate their time and resources to make dentures a reality for all six residents to confidently and successfully move on in life.

    On the day of our March event, I made sure to talk with as many Tent City 3 residents as possible. I learned from them that homelessness is temporary. Many of them are working hard to change their lives. Homelessness is also stigmatized and difficult to escape once inside. However, thanks to organizations like Tent City 3, individuals who are often victims of rising living costs and employment misfortunes are able to find a community of support, work hard to eventually leave the camp, and obtain a safe residence once again. I am proud to serve them in their efforts and will continue to say "YES!" when called upon to do so.

    — Mark Van Duker

  • We Aren't All Animals


    Dr. Jeffrey evaluates a patient surrounded by numerous UW School of Dentistry students who took part in his treatment. 
    Esther Yi/2017

    While I always knew that there was an undeserving amount of negative stigmatization around people experiencing homelessness, the dehumanizing effects of these presumptions became all too apparent when a resident of Tent City 3 (TC3) saw me with my camera and pleaded, “Please show them that we aren’t all animals in here.”

    TC3 is a sanctioned homeless encampment that contracts with various locations throughout Seattle that host the community for 90 days at a time. At the end of those 90 days they pack up and move to a new location. Presently, they’re here at UW, a feat that took nearly 10 years to accomplish. Upon discovering TC3 would be hosted by the University, Husky Health Bridge (HHB) mounted a call to action.

    On February 4, 2017, after several months of rigorous planning, HHB successfully delivered dental care to the residents of TC3. With three mobile operatories set up in the UW Fishery Sciences Building and two additional chairs available for treatment in Medical Team International’s mobile dental clinic, a total of 20 patients were screened and treated by first and third year dental students under the close supervision of faculty advisors Drs. Jeffrey, Newman, and Stewart of the UW School of Dentistry.

     


    Dr. Newman supervises third year dental student Greg Maggass, assisted by first year dental student Kristie Cheng, as they treat a patient aboard MTI's mobile dental clinic. 
    Esther Yi/2017

    Homelessness is an issue that has unfortunately become so common that we have become desensitized to the deprivation of basic human rights that homeless individuals encounter daily. People experiencing homelessness have become accessories to our pavements and victims of a falsely imposed identity that is synonymous with laziness, incapability, and criminality. The issue is much larger and more complex than that: it is a function of a diseased society that fails to adequately support its own people.

    The homeless have endured the stripping of their humanity by members of the same society to which they belong. When we acknowledge this troubling and unfortunate experience, it becomes easy to realize why a large distrust exists between those who are homeless and those who are not. This doubt extends into the healthcare setting where the homeless are reluctant - understandably so - to seek necessary treatment until it is too late for any effective preventative or salvageable measures.

     

    "Only by sincerely listening and engaging in meaningful conversation can we begin to dissipate the distrust and anxiety that burdens many homeless individuals as they seek out health equity."

     

    This problem needs to be addressed on many levels, but it all starts with listening. How can we attempt to treat an individual with only one side of the narrative? Only by sincerely listening and engaging in meaningful conversation can we begin to dissipate the distrust and anxiety that burdens many homeless individuals as they seek out health equity. The profound efficacy of listening became clear to me as I interacted with many TC3 residents who courageously came in to our clinic for treatment.

     


    Tent City 3 resident Jason shares an early morning smile and some humor as he awaits treatment. 
    Esther Yi/2017

    The day seemed to pass as a giant blur as I ran from one location to another with camera in hand, making sure to capture the entirety of the event and all it encompassed. Jason, our first patient of the day, summed things up quite humorously, “It’s too early for this” he said as his provider tilted him back for his initial exam. Although the event was a bustling haze, the personal interactions and stories that I encountered were not only astonishingly lucid and memorable, but also eye-opening as I learned about the anxiety-driven barriers to care that plague our homeless neighbors. Many of the patients we saw that day had not seen a dentist in years and required extensive cleanings or more invasive procedures like extractions or replacement of failing restorations. It seemed we didn’t get there early enough.

    While most patients were able to cope with their anxiety with the consolation of our volunteers, some patients were so overwhelmed they unfortunately could not be seen. One such case was a man who came in with a chief complaint of lower jaw pain. Upon an intra-oral examination, I discovered that nearly all of his teeth were reduced to stubs, likely from natural wear due to grinding. He had multiple teeth that were broken at the crown with the roots still embedded within his jaw and a heavy deposition of calculus that was adversely impacting his oral health. He needed invasive treatment that would require the use of local anesthesia, but after learning of his need for general anesthesia due to fear and anxiety, it became obvious that we weren’t fully equipped to provide him the comfort and care he needed.

    Being a pop-up dental clinic, and thus unable to provide general anesthesia, we directed him toward other resources that could offer him this service. After he left, the uncertainty that he would actually continue to seek out treatment did not sit well with me. I wondered, had angst and mistrust not been an issue, would this man have permitted treatment? Would he have been able to walk away that day with his oral problems addressed?

     

    "He had been wandering around the street for weeks, and his family did not yet know he was homeless."

     

    In addition to harboring feelings of restlessness and skepticism, many others are also dealing with aspects of their personal lives that hinder them from coming in for treatment. Take, for example, a man who initially came to the clinic to check in, but left shortly thereafter. Brandon, a member of HHB, went outside to assess what prompted him to leave so abruptly. He discovered the man had a daughter, and the uncertainty of what he was going to bring her the next day for her birthday was causing him overwhelming distress. He had been wandering around for weeks on the street, and his family did not yet know he was homeless.

    Stories like these prove time and time again that people experiencing homelessness have challenging family and social circumstances not unlike the rest of us, though exacerbated greatly by the hardships brought forth by homelessness.

     


    Theresa, a Tent City 4 resident, shares some thought-provoking words as her friends receive dental treatment inside UW's Fishery Sciences Building. 
    Esther Yi/2017

    Despite the challenging circumstances that surrounded many of our patients, moments of optimism transpired as they described the event as rewarding and impactful. I spoke with a middle-aged woman named Theresa for quite some time while she waited for her friends as they underwent treatment. She shared with me recollections of past traumatic dental experiences that she admitted made her initially skeptical about the event. Despite our difference in age, we talked about a variety of topics ranging from our upbringings and aspirations to our individual mantras in life. I was amazed and captivated by her willingness to share these deeply personal aspects of her life with me.

    As her friends finished their treatment, our conversation quickly came to an end. She thanked the event in relief, “Me and all my friends here are so glad we came today. I've had so many traumatizing dental experiences that I didn't want to come. Please, please make sure to send our thanks to your volunteers, students, and faculty that made this all possible today.”

     

    "And that’s when it hit me - the realization that the key to establishing trust and the eventual dissipation of treatment-related anxieties lies in simply listening and making sure that people know they are being heard."

     

    And that’s when it hit me - the realization that the key to establishing trust and the eventual dissipation of treatment-related anxieties lies in simply listening and making sure that people know they are being heard. The roles of a dentist aren’t just limited to clinical treatment. It is about fostering a relationship that is founded upon a platform of open communication.

    In a time where otherness, disenfranchisement, and bigotry is present more than ever, it is even more important that we share and listen to the stories of others with open hearts and open minds. And in doing so, the realization that we are all a part of a collective community of shared experiences will come to light. Only with this de-stigmatization can we begin to truly understand and devise an appropriate course of action towards addressing the multifaceted issue of homelessness.

    Much still needs to be done, but I am not here to push any agenda other than the human one: love, inclusivity, and altruism that is rooted in a deep understanding of our collective existence as the human race.

    — Esther Yi

  • A Call to Action

    There is a profound difference between having a toothache in the average Seattle home and enduring one on the streets. Imagine yourself in the throes of dental pain, lying on the sidewalk or perhaps, in a damp, nylon tent under the freeway. You have no money, no insurance, and seemingly no other option than to live with the discomfort and hope for the best. This is the frightening reality for many of the individuals who experience homelessness. In a country with modern technology and abundant resources, it is tragic that any human being should encounter the dead-ends of homelessness in America.

    As dental students, we often contemplate the role of our profession in public health and the implied responsibilities that follow. After successfully jumping through the flaming circus rings of bureaucracy and academic competition, we find ourselves in positions of great privilege. We have both the ability and freedom to choose our pathways in life. While many of us have served our communities with idealistic fervor in pre-dental years, we are now challenged to continue to stand in solidarity with those in need. In the midst of these ethical crossroads, Husky Health Bridge was formed. Our mission is sincere: to provide the poor and underserved with access to comprehensive healthcare through interprofessional relief efforts, education, and advocacy.

     

    "...we are now challenged to continue to stand in solidarity with those in need."

     

    Husky Health Bridge is a new division of the UW School of Dentistry’s Project HOPE (Homeless Outreach Program and Education) and operates under the guidance of Dr. Beatrice Gandara, DDS, MSD. Our first major project is a collaborative effort with Medical Teams International (MTI), Greater Seattle Cares (GSC), and AmeriCorps to bring dental care to Tent City 3 (TC3) – a unique, highly organized community of people who have banded together in the face of homelessness. In response to the lack of available indoor shelter in the greater Seattle area, King County allows these individuals to inhabit tents in designated locations for up to 90 days. When the allotted time expires, the traveling encampment moves once again. This time, they’ve moved to the UW.

    On February 4th and March 4th, 2017, Husky Health Bridge volunteers will provide on-site dental treatment to TC3 residents during their stay on campus. The relief events will offer access to care on board the MTI mobile dental van and a three chair mobile dental clinic, courtesy of Dr. Susanne Kölare Jeffrey, DDS, PhD. Each clinic day, 20-30 TC3 patients will be screened in triage and routed to the appropriate treatment area where they will receive cleanings, restorative work, and extractions. We humbly ask that our colleagues at the UW School of Dentistry join us in our efforts. In serving our new neighbors at TC3, we can propagate humanitarianism in dentistry and realize our immense potential to positively impact the lives of others.

    — Jessica Latimer

  • Search and Rescue

    Darkness falls and rain patters onto the empty Seattle streets, and the streetlights shine the path leading into The Jungle, a homeless encampment that used to be under the I–5 corridor. “Search and Rescue! We've got blankets, food, and hot chocolate!”, I shouted with tepid confidence as I cautiously walked around the encampment for the first time. I could only wonder why anyone would live in such conditions, and whether I would even make it home alive, however amateur that sounds. One by one, residents of The Jungle made their way to our donations; some left frantically back into their mysterious origins, while others made genuine connections with the regular volunteers. Who were these people?

    The reason I pursued a dental education was to gain tangible skills to distribute to those in need. The burdens of dental school — hard sciences, lab work, and so on — slowly dissolved such passions in me. From neglect, my motives to serve the poor and to redistribute the wealth downward underwent a metamorphosis for the worse; I was only concerned about my success, my dreams, and my comfort. It is important to note the gradual change in my heart after being fattened up with the ecstasy of “making it” into dental school... making my way up our tacit class system. Greed poisoned my soul. A quote from The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga seems apropos for such a testimony: "The dreams of the rich, and the dreams of the poor — they never overlap, do they?"

     

    "We are all a part of this human experiment, and we have to pick which side of history to be on."

     

    We have all seen what poverty looks like, and I truly invite you to see it if you haven’t already. My personal relationship with poverty was not pretty though — immigrant family, constantly moving and struggling — but I am fortunate to understand the nuances of being poor. Some would comment on my story as being privileged, but gaining privilege does not come so easily for everyone. You see, we all start with a certain amount of privilege, determined by our place in familial dynasty in relation to history. And in free societies we are able to strive to add privilege to our lives, for a lack of better words, and potentially pursue a better experience for ourselves. But there is something missing in this equation: one’s experience in relation to the rest of mankind.

    This should raise a follow-up question to the decent person, namely what is the responsibility of the privileged? If history has passed the baton to us, in what condition do we want to pass the baton to the next generation? We are all a part of this human experiment, and we have to pick which side of history to be on.

    Although probably repeated ad nauseam, I must reference a encompassing message from The Matrix. For those of you who haven’t seen this 1999 work of art, allow me to first orient you. Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne, exposes Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, to see the real world: a world where humanity is trapped in an artificial reality created by a race of machines. After exposing Neo to the truth, Morpheus offers Neo the choice to continue seeing reality, or revert back to his oblivious past, free of perturbations. “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

     

    "The first step in solving any problem is recognizing that there is one."

     

    In most of our lives, we are presented with such choices. This is especially more common among those in a position with more privilege. We are presented the option to choose ignorance over truth, dormancy over actions, and indifference over love without batting an eye to the problems. But the first step in solving any problem is recognizing that there is one.

    This is how Husky Health Bridge came to be. I found a group of students who are unconcerned with sanctimonious pablum, they just want to address the problems of today. They see various disparities in society, and they want to find a way to help. I honestly have no idea what the future of Health Husky Bridge looks like, nor if it will successfully solve anything. All I know is that this journey shows me that there are good people out there, trying their best for other good people. I promise to try my best for rest of mankind, and I hope you do the same. You can make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure, so waste no time arguing about what a good human should be. Be one.

    — Marcus Hwang