USC University of Southern California

The Gift of a Smile

As a school nurse with the Los Angeles Unified School District for over 30 years, Joyce Petteway worked tirelessly to help children stay healthy. The USC School of Dentistry helped her fulfill that mission.

Before her retirement in 2004, Petteway referred schoolchildren in need of oral health care to School of Dentistry programs for children such as the Pediatric Dentistry Clinic and the Sealant Project, now known as the Neighborhood Mobile Dental Van Prevention Program (NMDVPP). The program brings a mobile dental clinic to schools throughout Los Angeles to provide children with free oral health screenings, dental hygiene education, preventive dental sealants, and vouchers to help cover the cost of follow-up care.

Now Petteway is showing her support by donating funds to several School of Dentistry Community Health programs, including the NMDVPP; the USC+Union Rescue Mission Dental Clinic, which cares for the homeless of Downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row; the USC Mobile Dental Clinic, which provides care throughout California; and the Maternal, Child and Adolescent (MCA) Family Center for Infectious Diseases and Virology, which provides care to families affected by or at risk for HIV.

She described her donation as a way to say “thank you” for the valuable support the programs provide to keep school children healthy. Since dental problems and the pain they cause are one of the top reasons that California children miss school, good oral health can help a child perform at his or her academic best.

“I wanted to give back,” she said. “I wanted to thank USC for all that they’ve done for us school nurses by helping care for the oral health needs of the children.”

On September 3, Petteway visited the NMDVPP mobile clinic as dental students treated children at the James A. Foshay Learning Center in Los Angeles. Jennifer Holtzman, NMDVPP director, gave Petteway a tour of the clinic.

Though she had referred children to the clinic for many years, Petteway had never had the chance to see the inside of the Sealant Van herself before. She said it was wonderful to see the clinic in action.

“I am truly grateful for Ms. Petteway’s support,” Holtzman said. “Her donation has enabled me to fund care at our USC Pediatric Dental Clinic for children that we see in the van with pain, abscesses or deep cavities. As a school nurse, she knows what it’s like to see these children in pain and unable to concentrate at school as well as at play.”

Petteway also had lunch with some of the leaders of the School of Dentistry’s community health programs, including Marj Domingo, director of the USCSD Mobile Clinic; Janet Lent, director of the USCSD + MCA Dental Clinic; and USCSD assistant dean for Community Health Programs Niel Nathason and associate dean for Community Health Programs Roseann Mulligan.

Mulligan thanked Petteway for her generosity and mentioned how pleased the faculty is to have someone outside of dentistry recognize the importance of oral health and the programs’ mission to make a difference in the lives of children.

Petteway has seen firsthand the struggle of Los Angeles’ less fortunate residents to stay healthy, Nathason said, and her donation will provide greatly needed care for some of the most at-risk patients in Los Angeles.

“Having worked in the central city schools and also the area district office for many years, it was obvious that Ms. Petteway had seen the increase in people who had become homeless, especially the growing number of families with small children,” Nathason said. “In order to help us to provide care to these most disadvantaged individuals, she also directed part of her gift to USCSD for the USC+URM Dental Clinic, which we very much appreciate.”

Lent also shared her gratitude for both Petteway’s financial support and her understanding of the need for better oral health care in Los Angeles and beyond.

“It was a pleasure to meet this woman who has given so much to the health care of LA’s children as a longtime school nurse and who so generously supports our efforts to improve the dental health of children in this city,” Lent said. “As a former PTA Clinic dentist for the LA Unified School District, it was particularly gratifying for me to talk with Joyce and discover that she had been shoulder to shoulder with us in school settings and understands from long hours in the trenches just how great the need is for health care for this city’s families, and how incapacitating poor oral health can be to a child’s education.”