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UT Dentists, HSDA volunteer at MECA Festival

HSDA Chapter President Esmeralda Diaz, RDH, shows a kid how to properly brush teeth on a dragon stuffed animal.
HSDA Chapter President Esmeralda Diaz, RDH, shows a kid how to properly brush teeth on a dragon stuffed animal. Photo by Gustavo Huerta.

UT Dentists and the Hispanic Student Dental Association Chapter at UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry participated in 2021 Día de Los Muertos Festival at the Multicultural Education and Counseling Through the Arts. An estimated 8,000 visitors from the Houston area and some out-of-state attendees were able to learn more about the holiday while participating in a wide array of activities, watching colorful performances, and eating traditional Mexican foods.

Located in the Old Sixth Ward, MECA has been a staple in the community since its first conception in 1977 and gained 501(c)(3) status in 1979. The community-based organization is committed to the development of underserved and underrepresented families through arts and cultural programming, academic excellence, support services, and community building.

The two-day holiday, which is traditionally celebrated Nov. 1-2, was held on Friday, Oct. 30, and Saturday, Oct. 31, and has grown into one of the largest celebrations in the Old Sixth Ward Houston area. For approximately 22 years MECA has hosted the festival showcasing ofrendas, local vendors, and live performances. Ofrendas are altars dedicated to those who have passed, traditionally adorned with cempazuchitl (marigolds), photos of the deceased, calaveras (candied skulls), and the deceased’s favorite foods and items. Ofrendas date back to the times of the Aztecs.

Representatives from UT Dentists were seen handing out informational brochures for services offered at the faculty group practice. Alongside UT Dentists were HSDA members Esmeralda Diaz, RDH, and Tanner Hutchinson, Cari Guerra, Giancarlo Cruz, and Heni Gutman, passing out toothbrushes, informational material on good oral health practices, and showing children of all ages how to care for their teeth.

“MECA’s Dia de los Muertos event was an amazing event to be a part of, celebrating the lives of those that have come before us through music, food, and dance,” said Esmeralda Diaz, a third-year dental student and HSDA president. “It was an exciting opportunity to reach out to our community of Hispanic, Latino, and Latinx descent to promote good oral practices and educate them on how it affects their overall health.”

Research provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows significant disparities between non-Hispanic White children and adults and Mexican Americans. Adults aged 20-64 are nearly twice as likely to have untreated cavities compared to their non-Hispanic White adult counterparts. In adults aged 65 or older, Mexican American adults have two to three times the rate of untreated cavities as older non-Hispanic White adults.

“MECA is grateful to UT Dentists and the Hispanic Student Dental Association at UTHealth School of Dentistry for attending and giving free dental kits to our community,” said John De La Garza, volunteer coordinator at MECA. “We look forward to having them back to provide further resources and education for our upcoming community events. MECA hopes we can establish a long-term partnership with the dental school and their partners.”

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