Public Release: 

Model dental school curriculum to address disparities in oral health care

University of Illinois at Chicago

In an ambitious effort to bring dental care to vulnerable populations, the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry is developing a novel community-based educational program that will place students in clinics serving minority, low-income and medically compromised people throughout the city and state.

Expected to serve as a model for dental schools across the country, the program is being developed under a $1.5 million grant from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to address what the U.S. Surgeon General calls "profound and consequential disparities in the oral health of our citizens."

The UIC program is intended to bring dental care and prevention services to underserved urban and rural populations and increase the diversity of the dental workforce in the state by recruiting more minority and low-income students into the profession.

"We hope to create a healthcare workforce committed to treating oral diseases in vulnerable populations," said Linda Kaste, director of predoctoral dental public health at UIC. "Future practitioners will start thinking not just about who is in the chair, but who is not in the chair -- who needs dental care and disease prevention and how those services can be delivered."

"The college is no stranger to outreach," said Dean Bruce Graham. "But the new curriculum will make community collaboration an integral part of the dental school program."

Over the five-year term of the grant, UIC will work in partnership with community clinics, charitable organizations, government health departments and healthcare systems to identify locations where dental students can do clinical rotations.

According to William Knight, assistant dean for patient care and clinical education, the revised curriculum will provide community-based experiences for students starting in their first semester of dental school and continuing throughout their education. First-year courses will include prevention, dental public health, research, community-oriented healthcare, behavioral science, cultural sensitivity, ethics, quality assurance and practice management. In the fourth year, students will have at least 60 days of clinical experience in the community.

Full scholarships funded by the foundation grant and the UIC College of Dentistry will allow the recruitment of students from underrepresented groups.

According to statistics collected by the American Dental Education Association, only 4.8 percent of dental students are African American and only 5.3 percent are Hispanic -- percentages that do not reflect the general U.S. population.

The new UIC program was inspired in part by the first-ever U.S. Surgeon General's report on the nation's oral health, issued in May 2000, which estimated that 25 million Americans are living in areas lacking adequate dental care services. Particularly vulnerable, the report said, were the poor, ethnic and racial minorities, and medically compromised patients. It urged a national partnership to remedy the situation.

In Illinois, more than 80 percent of counties have a shortage of dental health professionals. Chicago has the highest percentage of children with untreated dental decay in the state.

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The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., is the nation's largest philanthropic organization devoted exclusively to health and healthcare. It has given grants to 10 dental schools, including UIC, to develop community-based education programs.

For more information about the foundation, visit www.rwjf.org.

For more information about the UIC College of Dentistry, visit dentistry.uic.edu.

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