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UNC School of Dentistry Marks Another Year for DEAH DAY, Provides Free Care

To honor its late students Deah Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha, the UNC Adams School of Dentistry gathers every year for a day of service to the local community.

Wednesday’s was the sixth annual DEAH DAY held by the school, which was established in the wake of their death. The acronym stands for Directing Efforts And Honoring Deah And Yusor and the effort has seen students participate in various service activities like trail clean-ups, working with food pantries and more.

This year, the School of Dentistry offered free dental care, including exams, x-rays, extractions, sealants, fluoride and fillings, to patients who are financially challenged.

Scott De Rossi, the dean of the School of Dentistry, said the idea for DEAH DAY was kickstarted by the students within the program.

“When Deah and Yusor lost their lives in February 2015, the students wanted to do something that really was special and honor their lives and honor something that was really important to them, which was giving back to the community,” De Rossi said. “They arranged the very first DEAH Day that fall and we’ve been continuing that tradition ever since.”

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic made this year’s DEAH DAY different than any before. While normally only dentists would be wearing masks at the School of Dentistry, Wednesday’s event saw everyone masked up to follow health and safety guidelines. Patients were screened and had their temperatures checked upon arrival. Dental exams were conducted at every other station, ensuring that patients, students and instructors were socially distant.

Curtis Phillippi, a fourth-year dental student volunteering on Wednesday, said students and instructors were taking precautions by wearing N-95 masks, which the Center for Disease Control says filters out at least 95 percent of airborne particles.

“It’s been a change of pace, but it’s one that we’ve all gotten used to. We’re glad of changes that we can accommodate so that we can still see patients and learn and do everything that we’re here to do,” he said.

Jackie Smith, the lead patient care coordinator for the Comprehensive Oral Health Division, said she found it inspiring to witness students continuing their commitment to service amid the pandemic.

“It’s really awesome,” said Smith, “because one of our mission statements for Carolina dentistry and the UNC School of Dentistry is service and that’s one of our missions and giving back to the community. So we really strive on that and teach that to our students. So it’s awesome to see the students giving back and it shows them community service and how to give back and use their, you know, dental expertise to make a difference.”

De Rossi said the community service behind DEAH DAY emphasizes the core values of the School of Dentistry.

“Commitment to service and passionately serving is really our core value as a dental school,” De Rossi said, “and what’s really special about this is we took — and our students took — something that was so senseless and so tragic and turned it into something that has been so impactful and so special. That makes our dental school community immensely proud.”

Organizers said they hoped to serve at least 120 patients at Wednesday’s free clinic, but still accepted walk-in exams throughout the day.

More information about DEAH DAY and other student-led service efforts within the Adams School of Dentistry can be found on the school’s website.

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