The Problem: Dental care was the number one unmet health care need in Ohio, according to a 1998 survey by the Ohio Department of Health. In response to this finding, the governor established a task force to develop a plan to increase access to dental services for state residents.
Grantee Perspective: The Ohio State University (OSU) College of Dentistry took on the challenge of increasing Ohioans' access to dental care. Leaders participated in the task force and in 2003, initiated the OHIO (Oral Health Improvement through Outreach) Project.
Through the OHIO Project, senior dental students working at community sites provide dental care to underserved populations. Program staff also works to increase recruitment and retention of minority dental students. From 2002 to 2007, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this work through Pipeline, Profession and Practice: Community-Based Dental Education.
“RWJF's program was the opportunity we had been waiting for—we were poised to do something,” says Paul Casamassimo, D.D.S., M.S., professor and head of pediatric dentistry at OSU. “We had a community structure in the state and a dean who felt that outreach was a way to change dental education.”
The dean tapped a new member of the college's faculty, Canise Bean, D.M.D., M.P.H., to direct the OHIO Project. This was just what Bean was looking for.
“In addition to my dental degree I also have a public health degree, but I couldn't find a good blend between dentistry and public health. Most of what was available was just working in a public health clinic,” she says. “With the OHIO Project there was the potential of reaching the masses.”
Results: Through the OHIO Project at OSU, each fourth-year dental student spends 50 to 60 days during the academic year providing dental care at community sites throughout the state. The 23 sites include community clinics, clinics at Columbus Children's Hospital and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and clinics serving the homeless.
Students also serve young patients in the Dental H.O.M.E. (Health Outreach Mobile Experience) Coach, a large van outfitted with three dental chairs and state-of-the-art equipment. The dentists-in-training can perform most dental procedures in the van, which rotates service to 30 area schools.
This experience has several key benefits, according to Bean. “The students are exposed to a variety of diverse populations, which promotes their learning and personal growth. And many Ohioans receive dental care that they otherwise would do without.”
During the 2005–06 academic year, students provided more than $1.2 million in dental services to needy Ohioans, in 11,808 patient encounters.
The project also gives the students more experience than the usual dental education model. “It enhances students' preparedness dramatically by increasing their clinical training greatly,” says Casamassimo.
In 2006, for example, each student saw an average of 190 more patients in the community sites than in the college clinic. They also performed an average of 281 more procedures.
Since RWJF funding ended in 2007, OSU has continued the OHIO Project. “The project is well-integrated into the college and is well-aligned with university goals,” says Carole Anderson, Ph.D., interim dean of the dental school.
RWJF Perspective: RWJF launched Pipeline, Profession and Practice: Community-Based Dental Education in 2001 to help increase access to dental care for underserved populations. Through 2007, 15 dental schools had developed community-based clinical education programs to provide care to those in need and increased recruitment and retention of low-income and underrepresented minority students. Under a new iteration of the program, RWJF plans to fund up to eight more dental schools in early 2008.
“The OHIO Project exceeded our expectations in its expanded community practice,” says Judith S. Stavisky, M.P.H., RWJF senior program officer. “Dr. Bean brought an unwavering commitment to include community rotations as a critical part of each student's education. She inspired both her students and her staff.”