Despite the gravity of the problem, dental care for vulnerable people has received relatively little attention from governments and foundations. Over the years, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has sporadically funded efforts aimed at improving oral health services for underserved populations. Much of its grantmaking has centered on dental education. In its early years, the Foundation funded scholarships for needy minority dental students. It later supported programs to help dental students develop the skills to serve handicapped patients, to give minority college students the skills to successfully apply to dental schools, and to develop a cadre of dentists-researchers who would provide leadership in dental education. The Foundation also has sought to expand dental services to underserved populations by training dental hygienists and other nondentists to provide general dental care and by mounting demonstration programs that test new ways of providing services to underserved individuals.
The most recent is an ambitious initiative called the Dental Pipeline Program (or, more formally, the Pipeline, Profession & Practice program) which supports 15 dental schools’ efforts to recruit minority students, revise the dental school curriculum so that students will be more skilled at and receptive to serving diverse populations, and center dental training in community clinics. In many ways, the Dental Pipeline Program parallels Foundation programs that support academic medical centers’ efforts to recruit and train physicians to work in underserved rural or inner-city areas.
As the author of the chapter, Paul Brodeur, a freelance journalist and frequent contributor to the Anthology series, concludes, although initiatives such as the Dental Pipeline Program can have a beneficial effect, the problem of poor oral health is so severe and the disparities so extensive that it will require a large infusion of public and private capital to have a significant impact.