Dental Public Health: Why faculty should be involved

Oct. 1, 2012
One issue that has not changed since I’ve been a dental hygienist is that those who suffer most from dental diseases are those ...


One issue that has not changed since I’ve been a dental hygienist is that those who suffer most from dental diseases are those who need dental treatment most often, and often cannot or do not obtain care until the dental infection has spread. Unfortunately, those who need care the most have the most difficulty obtaining this care.

A recent study revealed that the share of adults receiving a dental visit dropped by 3.9 percentage points, while the share among uninsured adults fell by 9.0 percentage points from 2000 to 2010.1 A Pew Center on the States report was published that indicated that the number of emergency room visits nationwide for dental problems increased 16% from 2006 to 2009, and the report said that the trend is continuing. Pew concluded that states can reduce hospital visits, strengthen oral health, and reduce costs by making modest investments to improve access to preventive care.2

One of the solutions suggested for treating the underserved and decreasing oral health disparities is to increase access to care, specifically the preventive care in which dental hygienists specialize. One way to increase care while watching spending is to realize the existing resources. Many dental schools and some dental hygiene programs have become safety nets for patients in need by using existing resources, i.e., dental clinics, faculty, and staff, in order to add a faculty practice clinic that is accessible to the community.

One way a dental hygiene program can take this one step further is to initiate a comprehensive faculty practice that would offer services year round, allowing faculty to develop a clinical endeavor designed to serve those in need. This accomplishes several goals. First, it would help ensure comprehensive care by making dentists’ services readily accessible to student clinic patients. This could ensure that dental hygiene patients are following up on restorative treatment in a timely manner.

Secondly, it would provide ample opportunity for faculty to stay current in clinic practice. Many times dental hygiene faculty do not continue to practice clinically. Do we want medical students learning from doctors who haven’t practiced in 20 years? If the answer is no, why would we want dental hygiene students learning from dental hygienists who have not practiced for 20 years?

Thirdly, it would provide a clinic that treats patients year round by accepting Medicaid and/or collaborating with other government or private funding for dental services for patients without the financial means to pay for such services. Lastly, it is an efficient way to use existing governmental resources on a full-time basis, thus capitalizing on what is available.

Unintended consequences from this arrangement may include the increase in patients due to offering more services and comprehensive services. This may result in the need to hire more staff for the clinic. Also, more student patients may become “recall” patients because the ability to receive comprehensive care.

This model will also allow students to witness their teachers providing community services, which is an excellent mentoring and role model paradigm. Additionally, because faculty members provide care for services rendered, a possible revenue source is created for the program and faculty salaries. Ultimately, adding a faculty dental clinic will benefit the program, while meeting the needs of the underserved, and utilizing existing facilities to their full potentional. RDH


1. Kenney GM, Zuckerman S, Goin D, McMorrow S. Urban Institute’s ACA Implementation Monitoring and Tracking Series: Quantitative Analysis. Urban Institute, May 2012.
2. A Costly Dental Destination Hospital Care Means States Pay Dearly. PEW Report. Feb. 28, 2012. Retrieved from on June 12, 2012.


  • California: More than 83,000 emergency room visits in 2007 for preventable dental problems
  • North Carolina: More than 69,000 trips to ERs in 2009 due to teeth or jaw disorders
  • Illinois: Nearly 77,000 dental visits to metro Chicago hospitals from 2008 to 2011
  • Florida: More than 115,000 dental-related ER cases in 2010
  • New York: A 32% increase in emergency treatments for young children with preventable dental problems

CHRISTINE NATHE, RDH, MS, is a professor and graduate program director at the University of New Mexico, Division of Dental Hygiene, in Albuquerque, N.M. She is also the author of “Dental Public Health Research” (, which is in its third edition with Pearson. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.

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