Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dental School selected for pilot community outreach program



The School of Dentistry is one of three schools nationwide selected to participate in a pilot program designed to increase access to oral health care among underrepresented minorities and low-income groups.

The project also aims to encourage adolescents from these groups to consider and ultimately pursue careers in the dental profession, and enhance academic-community partnerships.

The American Dental Education Association, the national organization that serves dental education, has received a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to develop the program. Results from the ADEA-supervised initiative will be shared with the nation’s other 56 dental schools.

Building on the success of its community outreach program, the School of Dentistry will increase its activities at sites where its students already provide care — the Bay Mills Health Care Center that serves Native Americans in Brimley, in the Upper Peninsula; and at a community-based dental clinic in Washtenaw County. The pilot program begins in August and continues for 18 months.

“This program seeks to improve the oral health of traditionally underserved minorities,” says Dr. Stephen Stefanac, associate dean for patient services, whose office supervises the school’s outreach program. “But this initiative also offers something new, recruitment through engagement.”

Stefanac says another goal of the initiative is to encourage more middle school and high school students to pursue a career in oral health care and foster mentoring relationships among those students, dental students and staff members at the community clinics.

“By building relationships and becoming engaged in health education activities with our dental and dental hygiene students who work side by side with dentists, hygienists and staff at community clinics, we hope these adolescents will be inspired to seriously consider becoming oral health care professionals,” he says.

Stefanac says U-M dental students and the community oral health professionals “will answer questions, offer guidance and nurture interest among those we hope will become the next generation of dental providers.”

Adolescents will be engaged in various community outreach and health education efforts. Initially they may volunteer at the clinics in their neighborhoods and help with nonclinical activities. Ultimately they will shadow dentists and dental hygienists. A Web site with information about careers and opportunities in the oral health care profession, www.explorehealthcareers.org, will complement the personal interaction.

“Everyone benefits from this approach,” Stefanac says. “Patients from underrepresented minority backgrounds and children from low-income families will receive the oral health care they need. Adolescents in middle school and high school will have a chance to see for themselves how they can make a difference in the lives of individuals of all ages in their own communities. And, as mentors and role models, Michigan dental and dental hygiene students will strengthen our partnership with those we are now working with.”

Since the 1930s, dental and dental hygiene students from the School of Dentistry have provided oral health care across Michigan, typically during the summer.

However, the school’s community outreach program expanded significantly in 2000 when dental and dental hygiene students began working in clinics outside the dental school during the academic year. Currently, fourth-year dental students participate for eight weeks at 19 sites in 14 different Michigan communities.

The two other dental schools selected for the pilot program were the Howard College of Dentistry in Washington, D.C., and the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry.