OHSU

Community Dental Rotations

Background and Rationale

It is estimated that 24% of Oregon children and 20% of children nationwide, 6-8 years of age, experience untreated tooth decay for no other reason than a lack of access to a dentist.  Untreated dental caries in children can lead to sleeplessness, loss of appetite, shortened attention span, compromised nutrition, and orthodontic space discrepancies as a result of premature loss of deciduous teeth (baby teeth).

Approximately 66% of adults in Oregon experience premature tooth loss as the result of decay or advanced periodontal disease.  In adults, the health consequences of untreated dental pathologies can lead to unnecessary pain, chronic infection, and in some cases death from acute infections.

Research has established that dental education programs which place emphasis on public health issues graduate dental professionals who are more willing to participate in the development of solutions to address the oral health needs of underserved populations. Moreover, service learning has also been established as a valuable educational method for nurturing a sense of community responsibility in health professional students. By developing collaborations with targeted community organizations, OHSU School of Dentistry can provide off-campus service-learning opportunities for students that promote awareness of the complex issues involved with addressing the oral health needs of the entire population.   

Program Description

The rotation provides off-campus service-learning experience through engagement in a diverse array of public health activities.  The majority of the student's time is spent treating patients in a variety of community health centers and rural private dental practices throughout the state of Oregon working with OHSU-affiliated volunteer clinical faculty in their practice site.

While on rotation students also participate in activities conducted by other OHSU community partners.  Examples of other activities include direct involvement in practice-based research, school-based preventive and educational programs, and oral health policy advocacy to state and local-elected officials or regulatory bodies. 

Assessment

As part of the curriculum, each student must complete a personal and professional development report which provides an opportunity for reflection on the impact of the community-based experience.  These reports lay the foundation for the students life-time professional development, commitment to service and community collaboration and ensure awareness of the comprehensive and complex nature of health care for vulnerable populations. 

To assess the impact on the community, OHSU School of Dentistry monitors and analyzes patient interactions including number of patients treated and procedures performed as well as gathering input from the providers at the site.

Expectations

As a result of this program, the School of Dentistry expects to graduate practitioners with a strong commitment to treating underserved populations and the skills to be leaders in their communities. Moreover, by extending the walls of our institution throughout Oregon, we not only tap into a wealth of diverse clinical experience but also get directly involved in helping communities address their most pressing problems with access to dental care.