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Are Community Health Centers changing the face of Dental Education?


Increasingly dental education is recognizing the value of community health centers and community based experiences. More and more dental schools are providing expanded opportunities for clinical experiences in CHC’s as called for in a 2011 Institute of Medicine Report and the Commission on Dental Accreditation adopted a completely new standard in 2013 that reads as follows:


  • Dental education programs must make available opportunities and encourage students to engage in service learning experiences and/or community-based learning experiences.
Today there is a unique opportunity to be a part of furthering the efforts to elevate public health and health centers in Dental Education. Please read on to learn about the ground breaking strides that are being taken and the opportunity available. 

A revolution in the education of public health minded students is launching ten years after the Arizona School of Dentistry & Health (ASDOH) opened with a unique curriculum that focuses on public health and community based education, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation initiated the Pipeline, Profession, and Practice: Community-Based Dental Education program. The newly accredited Missouri School of Dentistry & Oral Health (MOSDOH), a sister school to ASDOH and a school of A.T. Still University (ATSU), has developed a unique and groundbreaking partnership with Grace Hill Health Centers in St. Louis. 

While ASDOH students complete at least half of their 4th year clinical experience in CHC’s and other safety net clinics across the country, MOSDOH is the first school in which students will receive their entire clinical education completely within the context of a community health center. Grace Hill, in partnership with ATSU, will operate an expansive 85 operatory dental clinic in which MOSDOH students will spend their 3rd and 4th years. During their 4th year, the students will rotate at CHC’s around Missouri and the Midwest for half of their year, much like the students at ASDOH. 

Dr. Gary Wiltz, chair of NACHC said, “ATSU’s partnership with Grace Hill is the first of its kind in the country and an exciting development for the community health center movement. “We hope it will be a model for other dental schools of how to make oral health care an integral part of primary care services.” 

Alan O. Freeman, GHHC’s president and CEO, said, “A brilliant aspect of the ATSU model is that it benefits the patients we serve from day one. And, the students will be able to develop an unusually nuanced understanding of the skills needed to care for our patients in their communities. This is a remarkable opportunity for Grace Hill and other participating CHC’s, and we are very thankful for it.”

In order to effectively coordinate the MOSDOH educational program and clinical operation at the MOSDOH/Grace Hill Clinic and throughout Grace Hill’s network of clinics, a unique position has been created. The Assistant Dean for Clinic Operations/ Director of Dental Services is a first of its kind. This key position will be a combination of a CHC Dental Director and Dental School Administrator. Seasoned CHC Dental Directors may be particularly suited to fill this position. The position will carry a dual appointment with MOSDOH and Grace Hill and be responsible for the clinical operation of both the student clinic and the other clinics within the Grace Hill network. For information on this ground breaking employment opportunity, see NNOHA’s job board posting. You may also contact Dr. Wayne Cottam, Vice Dean for MOSDOH at WCottam@atsu.edu

As more dental schools realize the short and long term benefits of partnering with Community Health Centers, you as providers hold in an increasingly important role in the development of our profession and the quality of dental education. NNOHA applauds this effort to elevate the role of safety net providers in dental education and we encourage you to share this history and new position with your colleagues.



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