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An interview with Berenice Miranda and Cynthia Alvarez, Social Work Interns at UIC COD Pediatric Dentistry



Berenice and Cynthia

Healthy dental practices and care begin at a young age, and the individuals who work in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at the UIC College of Dentistry are dedicated to making oral health accessible to the community. Berenice Miranda and Cynthia Alvarez, Social Work Interns in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry, work closely with dentists, faculty and families to meet the child’s oral health needs, as well as assessing the resources available to families if it’s necessary to receive treatment outside of the dentist. Berenice and Cynthia joined the College in August 2021, both demonstrating dedication to their roles at the College and the community they serve as Social Work Interns.

What do you do in your role at the College?

Berenice: At the College, a fellow intern and I work closely with patients and families to understand the difficulties they face in everyday life, and how those affect accessing and receiving dental health services. As a social work intern, I work closely with dentists, faculty, and staff during clinic hours to learn about the family’s needs. In addition, I create a Social Work Referral form where I input case notes, family updates, information gathered through psychosocial assessments, and more.

The support that each of our families need is unique; as a result, support can look like engaging in conversation during the dental appointment, short-term interventions, and regular check-ins (in-person or via phone call). Through my experience at the College, the importance of social workers working in an interdisciplinary team is clear.

Cynthia: I work in the Dental CASA Program, where we meet with families in the pediatric clinic to assess their needs related to their child’s oral and overall health, as well as connect them to other resources outside of the dentist.

What made you want to work in Pediatric Dentistry?

Berenice: For the first three years of my undergraduate studies, I was in the Pre-Med track. I made the decision to not pursue the career and became interested in social work. Being a social work intern at a dental clinic would give me the opportunity to remain in a healthcare setting while learning the relationship between social work and oral health. Secondly, although I had some experience working with adolescents, I had not yet worked closely with infants and toddlers. This internship would give me the opportunity to learn about the challenges, if any, families and parents face when raising children.

Cynthia: My interest is in wanting to work with families and children, and I was very interested to see how a social worker can play a role in dentistry. I wanted to explore the healthcare setting as I believe it will help me to become well-rounded in being in different social work settings.

How does your job meet your career goals and aspirations?

Berenice: Ever since high school, I have been interested in working with children and adolescents. I believe respecting and supporting their growth into adulthood is crucial. As a social work intern here, I’ve had the privilege of working with this population and their families. Working at the College of Dentistry also meets my career aspirations because my vision for the future is to be an agent of change, and a lending hand to marginalized and underserved populations.

Cynthia: This internship has been a great place to start off my career as a social worker because I can carry everything I have learned here to my future career in working with children and families. My time here so far has taught me about doing assessments, how to follow up, and it has also exposed me to working with the special needs population and learning about what types of resources parents need to help their child. I have been able to work with a very diverse population overall, which will help me in my future career path.

What is the importance of having your type of position in the Pediatric Department?

Berenice: When I shared the news that I would be interning as a social worker in the Pediatric Department, my family and friends were confused. How does social work fit in a dental clinic? I was also interested to learn more about this pair.

Throughout my first semester, the importance of having a social work team in dentistry was clear. Developing healthy oral habits as a child is beneficial in the long run, and impacts overall health and wellbeing. However, there are barriers that create challenges for patients (clients) and their families to access a dentist like insurance costs, distance of care, parental unemployment, familial mental health, and more. Social workers and social work interns can use a biopsychosocial approach and other models to understand the whole child, adolescent and their families. We can support them by breaking down these barriers here at the Pediatric Department.

Cynthia: It is important to reach families wherever we can because they might not know where to look if they do need resources. Connecting them to resources, such as transportation, can help parents make it to their child’s next dentist appointment, which contributes to the child’s oral and overall health.

To learn more about the Pediatric Dentistry Department, please visit: