Why and how to get involved in community outreach programs at your dental school

To make the most of your dental education, collaborating with community outreach opportunities is essential. Get out of your comfort zone to learn about issues impacting your communities, while gaining clinical and interprofessional skills.

There are tremendous oral health disparities in the United States. Early childhood caries (ECC) is the most common chronic childhood disease, being five times more common than asthma. [1] Research shows that approximately one in four children ages 3-5 and 6-9 living in poverty in the United States have untreated dental caries. [2] Untreated caries is nearly twice as high for Hispanic children compared with non-Hispanic white children aged 6-9 years. Fortunately, there are many oral health initiatives that focus on improving the status of ECC in the United States.

An example of a successful U.S. outreach program is the Access to Baby and Child Dentistry (ABCD) program. The goal was to increase the number of children under 5 years old who visit the dentist through educational initiatives for parents and dental professionals. [3]

There are many ways dental students can become involved in community outreach. Here are six easy ways dental students to get started:

  1. Reach out to faculty members conducting research or programs in the community. A meeting with faculty will allow students to learn about exciting opportunities happening on and off campus.
  2. Contact local community health clinics for dental volunteer positions. Federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and local community health clinics provide many resources for underserved communities.
  3. Connect underserved community members to a dental home. Visit local pre-schools, high schools or other community centers for opportunities to provide information on how to schedule an appointment at local dental clinics.
  4. Brush up on your languages. As dental providers, communicating with your patient is important. Learning key phrases in the language of your community will help patients understand and communicate with you.
  5. Get familiar with your dental school clinic’s appointment protocols. Learning about your institutions’ appointment procedures can help patients receive dental treatment faster.
  6. Ask your dental school administration to open and establish opportunities with your local community health centers. Be an advocate of community collaboration.

There are vast opportunities and support that offer students experience to acquire useful skills to use throughout their professional career. We need to take care of the dental needs of our community first.

Your time at dental school goes by fast, so make the most of your incredible opportunity connect with your community partners now.

~Francisco Ramos-Gomez, DDS, MS, MPH, Professor of Section of Pediatric Dentistry, UCLA

[1] US Department of Health and Human Services, “Oral health in America,” A Report of the Surgeon General, 2000, http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/oralhealth/.
[2] Dye BA, Li X, Thornton-Evans G. Oral health disparities as determined by selected Healthy People 2020 oral health objectives for the United States, 2009–2010. NCHS data brief, no 104. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2012.
[3] Kobayashi M, Chi D, Coldwell SE, Domoto P, Milgrom P. The effectiveness and estimated costs of the Access to Baby and Child Dentistry program in Washington State, 2005. The Journal of the American Dental Association, vol. 136, no. 9, 2005, www.ada.org/goto/jada. Accessed 1 Dec. 2017.

This content is sponsored and does not necessarily reflect the views of ASDA.

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About Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Colgate-Palmolive Company is the global leader in oral health care technology, products, and education. Its products include technologically advanced toothpastes, toothbrushes, mouthrinses, and floss. The Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals Inc. subsidiary provides professional fluoride, gingival health, tooth-whitening, and oral first aid products.

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