Volunteering to help the underserved has been a lifelong credo for OHSU School of Dentistry alumnus Sachin Rao, D.D.S., GPR ’23. Last year, when he and his co-residents were informed of a volunteer opportunity at Bridges Collaborative Care Clinic (BCCC), Rao was eager to step forward.
BCCC is a student-led free clinic providing health services to vulnerable populations in Portland’s metro area. Students from OHSU, Portland State University and Oregon State University work in partnership with Transition Projects, Inc., a Portland nonprofit agency focused on transitioning people from houselessness into housing.
OHSU dental students volunteering through BCCC provide cleanings, exams, basic restorative dentistry and simple extractions for underserved populations at the Bud Clark Commons, a comprehensive service center in Portland’s Old Town district. Every third Saturday, the temporary dental operatory is set up and run by OHSU dental students overseen by OHSU faculty and alumni.
Volunteering at the BCCC dental clinic provides a service opportunity for Rao and gives him experience teaching and advising students in a clinical setting. He is impressed by the caliber of OHSU faculty preceptors and students who volunteer at BCCC.
“The faculty are passionate about it. They want to teach and they want to help the community,” Rao says. “Students want to get better at dentistry and serve people that need care the most.”
“It’s a privilege to be a dentist. I think it is our obligation to give back in some capacity.”Sachin Rao
Students and co-chairs Anna Ball and Thomas Rezendes, D.M.D. Class of 2025, currently manage BCCC’s dental clinic. They were trained by last year’s co-chairs: students Ellie Amico and Ciara Robinson, D.M.D. Class of 2024. Amico continues to work in leadership with BCCC.
As managers, Ball and Rezendes arrive two hours before the clinic opens to pull equipment out of storage and set up three operatories. The donated secondhand equipment includes mobile Aseptico and A-dec delivery units, a Nomad machine for radiology needs and three exam chairs.
“As co-chairs, we’re responsible for running the clinic,” Ball says. “It’s a real-world opportunity to learn skills, but as co-chairs, we’re also learning how to run a dental practice — even things like licensing the radiology machines.”
Ball and Rezendes oversee a leadership team of OHSU dental student volunteers who are each assigned roles at the clinic — including running the front desk, operating the radiology cart and performing sterilization protocols.
Rao says dental students perform real-world, hands-on dentistry at BCCC. Student volunteers interview patients, complete health histories and learn about their patients’ primary complaints. Students then present their treatment plan to OHSU faculty and alumni volunteer preceptors for input and approval before performing the recommended procedures. Preceptors provide feedback and check student work.
“At Bridges, students have to think on their feet,” Rao says. “I think this is the best opportunity to get that training.”
“Many of the smartest and most passionate people I know have studied or worked at OHSU. To think that I am going to join them as an OHSU alum is an honor.”Anna Ball
Ball says that at BCCC, OHSU dental students experience invaluable expanded opportunities to provide clinical procedures they have learned at school. Through her work there, Ball has given injections, filled cavities, performed extractions and completed her first debridement — the removal of extreme amounts of plaque and calculus.
“We’re often cleaning someone’s teeth who hasn’t seen a dentist in 20 years,” Ball says. “When you start taking chunks of calculus off that have been there for years you think, ‘OK, I’m definitely making a difference in this person’s life.’”
OHSU faculty and alumni who serve as preceptors at BCCC are essential to its success. Ball is also grateful for the support the clinic has received from School of Dentistry Dean Ron Sakaguchi, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., M.B.A. Sakaguchi has introduced clinic leaders to the OHSU Alumni Association, the Oregon Dental Association and several resources within the Portland dental community, helping to expand support for Bridges continuing work.
Sakaguchi has also supported efforts to open the dental clinic at BCCC on Mondays, allowing faculty members to be excused from their clinical work at the School of Dentistry to volunteer at BCCC. More visitors see the clinic on Mondays because the Bud Clark Commons offers other resources Monday through Friday that are not available on the weekends, attracting greater numbers of guests into the building. Increased awareness of the clinic brings in additional patients.
Rao and Ball both chose to study at the OHSU School of Dentistry because of its location, reputation and program offerings. After earning his D.D.S. from the University of Minnesota, Rao completed his GPR at OHSU, drawn by increased opportunities to practice oral surgery as well as his interest in the sleep apnea program. He says studying with David Carsten, D.D.S., M.A.G.D., assistant professor of General Practice Residency in the OHSU School of Dentistry, was crucial to his own success.
“Dr. Carsten made me a better clinician and a true doctor,” Rao says. “There’s something to be said about the culture of the program. The faulty are very nurturing. There’s a true sense of community.”
“Having grown up in Portland, many of the smartest and most passionate people I know have studied or worked at OHSU,” Ball says. “To think that I am going to join them as an OHSU alum is an honor.”
Rao and Ball share a belief that, as dentists, they have unique skills and a responsibility to offer their services to those in need. After she graduates, Ball hopes to split her time between working in private practice and working in public health.
“Just being able to get someone out of pain and provide care that we know they wouldn’t be able to get otherwise is huge,” Ball says. “Especially in a homeless population where having something like a toothache can prevent you from being able to take a step in the right direction.”
Rao says, “It’s a privilege to be a dentist. I think it is our obligation to give back in some capacity.”
Alumni interested in serving as preceptors at BCCC should contact Megan Sether, at [email protected].