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IU Northwest senior launches drive to provide dental supplies, education to local underprivileged

Chemistry/pre-dental major seeking donations to distribute early next year

Wednesday Jul 24, 2013

Christopher Sicinski may be pursuing dentistry as a career, and is conscientious about his own oral health, but that does not make him immune to dental problems.

In fact, it was a root canal gone awry that served as the catalyst for the Munster college student to launch a collection drive for dental supplies that he plans to distribute along with some oral health education to those in need right here in Northwest Indiana.

Sicinski, a senior chemistry and pre-dental student at Indiana University Northwest, experienced a simple cavity last June that escalated into a painful infection. The infection quickly traveled to his bloodstream – a medical emergency.

The resulting emergency oral surgery and painful recovery that Sicinski experienced opened his eyes to the importance of dental health. If a pre-dental student with good oral health habits could suffer what he did, Sicinski thought, what about those without adequate access to care and supplies?

“Seventy-five percent of Americans suffer from some sort of oral health issue and that is because many of them can’t afford the supplies or afford going to a dentist,” Sicinski said. “I’ve grown from this experience and I care a lot about the patient. The first thing I can do is help underprivileged communities and help educate them about oral health.”

To demonstrate his seriousness about improving dental health for those in need, Sicinski developed a mission statement outlining his plans to collect and distribute dental supplies.

“My mission,” said Sicinski, “is to collect toothbrushes and toothpaste, dental floss, mouth wash, dental plaque tablets and other dental supplies for children and families in need, and to distribute them through local schools and clinics that serve the underprivileged. Children and families will be instructed and shown how to effectively use these supplies.”

Ernest Talarico, Jr., Ph.D., IU School of Medicine – Northwest associate director of medical education and associate professor of anatomy and cell biology, circulated Sicinski’s mission statement and offered to house the supplies collected.

“Chris is setting an example, not only for other students but faculty and staff as well,” Talarico said. “Compassion for patients, as well as a general concern and interest in serving one’s community, are important lessons for any healthcare student to learn. I encourage other students to consider similar service-learning endeavors.”

A Lowell dentist donated at least 600 toothbrushes. An alumna of the IU Northwest Dental Education program, who now works for Colgate, has facilitated a large donation from Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals. Friends, family, neighbors, fellow students and faculty have all rallied to help. Still, more donations are needed, Sicinski said, in order to meet his goals.

IU Police Department - Northwest Chief Patricia Nowak heard about Sicinski’s mission and asked her officers to help spread the word. Members of the police department themselves made a significant donation to support Sicinski’s efforts and have offered their assistance with helping him distribute the supplies.

Nowak said she and her fellow officers were excited to help, as they see the need in the community firsthand.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t surprise me to learn there are some children who don’t even have a toothbrush,” Nowak said. “Our officers like to connect with the community in a positive way and this student-led project will help our officers further our mission of serving and protecting not only the campus, but the surrounding community.”

With Talarico’s help, Sicinski intends to arrange speaking engagements in the area where he will distribute “dental goody bags” and give talks on oral health. Sicinski intends to share the story of his own dental problems to illustrate that while his case might have been extreme, it’s important not to take oral health for granted.

Sicinski expects to graduate from IU Northwest with a B.S. degree in Chemistry in May 2014 and hopes to attend dental school at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI). He would like to return to the Northwest Indiana region to practice.

“I want to be the kind of dentist that cherishes his patients, one that is dedicated, motivated, hard-working and definitely compassionate in everything I do.”

Sicinski will continue to collect supplies until December 20. Those wishing to support Sicinski’s mission can send supplies to: Indiana University Northwest, c/o Ernest Talarico, Jr., Ph.D., Dunes Medical/Education Building, Room 3028A, 3400 Broadway, Ind. 46408.

For more information, call (219) 981-4356.

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