Riddle: When does a church turn into a dental clinic?
Answer: When UB shows up.
Most of the first floor of True Bethel Church on Buffalo’s East Side was transformed into a temporary, one-day dental clinic on Saturday, February 4—a University at Buffalo outreach project. As the talented dozen of the church’s men’s gospel group rehearsed in the sanctuary, registration tables, volunteers, and stacks of brochures and commemorative royal blue t-shirts awaited patients in the lobby.
True Bethel, a massive church on East Ferry Street with attached school and adjacent apartment complex under construction (the church refers to all as their “East Campus”), is led by Pastor Darius Pridgen. Pridgen—also Ellicott District Common Council member and Council President—and congregation continually do outreach work in their neighborhood so having the dental clinic roll in was a natural.
During the ad hoc clinic hours, 10am-3pm, Mayor Byron Brown, UB President Satish Tripathi, and dental school dean Michael Glick stopped in. Local television stations did on-site interviews as patients trickled in from the cold.
To date this dental road show was University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine’s largest off-site project. The school already has in place its ongoing Give Kids a Smile Day with inner-city school children bused in for free dental exams, fluoride treatment, and instruction about brushing and flossing. Everyone leaves with a goodie bag with toothbrush and accompaniments.
At True Bethel chairs were set up for those filling out paperwork; patients’ next stops were a seat on one of the school’s portable dental chairs set up in a hallway, and other tables with information about insurance and the WIC program via a “community navigator.” Anyone who needed more care was referred to one of UB’s dental clinics—either in Squire Hall on South Campus on Main near Bailey Avenue or at 1500 Broadway.
Students were guided along the clinic experience by Dr. Stephen Abel and Dr. Dian ChinKit-Wells, both professors at the dental school. Known by her students and patients simply as “Dr. Dian” she made her way from groups of students to children being taught about oral health with fuzzy animal puppets with disconcerting oversized sets of teeth. “This is about being part of the community,” she said of the day. “You can see by the enthusiasm that they’re in the moment,” Dr. Abel added.
Patient Jayden Lewis, age nine and at the clinic with his father and older brother, said, “I’m glad I came so I could get my teeth checked out. I went to the dentist once before.” Dr. ChinKit-Wells, examining his brother Shundrekis, visiting from the South, recommended some orthodontic care. “It’s a really easy case,” she said. Later she would recount stories of children whose lives were changed by feeling prouder about their smiles.