Fixing the Mouths of Babes

As a volunteer with the USC School of Dentistry’s Mobile Clinic program, it’s Aimee Taraporewal’s job to make sure neighborhood schoolchildren keep all their teeth in a row.

For more than 30 years, the dentistry school’s mobile clinic vans have traversed the Southern California landscape, offering dental care and oral-health education to underserved populations. Offshoots of the program offer preventative and comprehensive dental care to area children, including students at the USC Family of Five and Partner schools.

Third-year dental student Taraporewal is an old-timer in the program, having gotten involved while still an undergraduate at USC.

“I was always interested in dentistry, so I thought that assisting dental students at the USC Mobile Clinic would be a great way to involve myself with community dentistry,” she said. Taraporewal later chose to attend the USC School of Dentistry precisely because of the school’s commitment to community health programs.

The 23-year-old recently gave a week of her time to the Sealant Project, whose goal is to offer preventative dental care to inner-city children in Los Angeles. During Taraporewal’s stint, she and 12 other volunteers, along with faculty adviser Jennifer Holtzman, an assistant professor of clinical dentistry, parked their van in the playground at Weemes Elementary School. From 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each day, the group saw three to four first- through third-graders. Looking to combat “a lack of understanding on the importance of daily oral hygiene,” said Taraporewal, she and the others taught the importance of good oral care, going over brushing and flossing techniques.

One would think a group of young dental neophytes would quake at the thought of entering the van, but Taraporewal insisted the opposite was true.

“The kids loved us! They were all so excited to see us at their school, and most of them couldn’t wait for their turn at the van,” she said. The children also put their newfound knowledge to immediate use. “The things we taught them – brushing, nutrition, etcetera – we saw them teaching to the other kids on the playground.”

Pleased with her summer volunteer experience, Taraporewal will continue her work with the Mobile Clinic program this fall on “any day that I do not have a patient scheduled at school.” And she plans to carry her passion for community involvement into her professional years.

“I am seriously considering a career in community dentistry,” she said. “I love working with the kids. Dr. Holtzman has been an amazing role model, and I hope to follow in her footsteps.”