May 2, 2013, 12:00 PM, Posted by Monique Trice
Monique Trice, 24, is a University of Louisville School of Dentistry student who will complete her studies in 2015. Trice completed the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) in 2008 at the University of Louisville site. Started in 1988, SMDEP (formerly known as the Minority Medical Education Program and Summer Medical and Education Program), is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation–sponsored program with more than 21,000 alumni. Today, SMDEP sponsors 12 sites, with each accepting up to 80 students per summer session.
Diversity is more than ethnicity. It also includes geography, perspective, and more. I was raised in Enterprise, Ala., which is in Coffee County. The community’s demographic and geographic makeup set the stage for an oral health care crisis. Here’s how:
- Enterprise is a community of 27,000 and just 15 licensed general dentists, three Medicaid dental providers, and zero licensed pediatric dentists to service Coffee County, a population of 51,000. In 2011, Alabama’s Office of Primary Care and Rural Health reported that 65 of the state’s 67 counties were designated as dental health shortage areas for low-income populations.
- According to this data, more than 260 additional dentists would be needed to bridge gaps and fully meet the need. For some residents, time, resources, and distance figure into the equation, putting dental care out of reach. In some rural communities, an hour’s drive is required to access dental services.
- Lack of affordable public transportation creates often-insurmountable barriers to accessing dental care.
Growing up in a single-parent household, my siblings and I experienced gaps in dental care. Fortunately, we never suffered from an untreated cavity from poor oral health care, but many low-income, underserved children and adults are not so lucky.