Being engaged in the surrounding community and striving to make it a better place is a key piece of Penn’s mission and educational goals. Through the School’s varied outreach and service-learning programs, Penn Dental Medicine students provide much-needed oral health services to the community, while broadening their understanding of public health issues. These academically based service-learning programs provide students and faculty with the framework to complete community-based activities as an essential, required component of academic course work. In total, students log approximately 16,000 service hours each year in both required and elective community experiences and the honors program.

This integral part of the curriculum takes students outside of the School’s clinics and campus to connect with diverse segments of the public and come to understand the impact of social, cultural, and economic forces on oral health care. The service learning programs are also an innovative and sustainable model for increasing access to care within the community and provides dental students and faculty with multiple opportunities to work with community partners in existing service programs where oral health education and services can be readily implemented. The required nature of students’ activities ensures that all students receive a consistent level of mentored community activities, and provides a consistent presence in oral health programs organized with agency partners in the community.

A Curriculum Requirement: Each student is required to complete four academically based service learning courses (one at each year of dental school). They include the following:

Required Service-Learning Courses

Students complete instructional lessons with children and adults at schools and community centers

Students visit community health centers and social service agencies, and participate in oral health education and care as part of the interdisciplinary care team.

Students provide clinical care at each of Penn Dental Medicine’s five community health clinics during Spring Semester of their third year.

Students provide clinical care at each of Penn Dental Medicine’s five community health clinics during Summer and Fall Semester of their fourth year.

Community Service Programs & Partners

Penn Dental Medicine’s academically based service learning program is based on a high level of collaboration between the University and community partners in West and Southwest Philadelphia.

Health Promotion Programs

This seven-week summer interdisciplinary health internship is open to students between the first and second years of dental school. Dental students attend one day of community health classes and work four days in a community setting with an interdisciplinary health care team to complete a health promotion program. Paired with medical, nursing, social work and/or veterinary medicine students, dental students work with community partners at one site to develop and implement community health programs to meet community needs, and present a poster of their project at the annual Bridging the Gaps symposium.

Dental students and Pediatric dental residents work with the Homeless Health Initiative of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia at four homeless shelters in West Philadelphia. Working with medical, dental and nursing staff, students and residents provide health education, oral health assessment and referral for dental care to women and children residents at the shelters.

Located at First African Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, UCC provides primary health care on Monday evenings. Dental students work as part of the interdisciplinary care team with Penn medical, nursing, and social work students and faculty and provide oral health education, examinations and referral for dental care with community members attending UCC.

UCHC is a non-profit organization that provides meals to homeless and hungry individuals, as well as key social services, in University City six days per week. On Wednesday evenings at the Episcopal Cathedral in Philadelphia, Penn Dental Medicine staff, faculty and students work with Penn medical, nursing, social work and law students and provide health education, oral health assessment and referral for dental care as part of the weekly interdisciplinary medical clinic, dental clinic and legal clinics at UCHC.

Community Dental Care Programs

Serving patients in the communities where they live, work and go to school is an increasingly significant part of the mission of Penn Dental Medicine. Through its Division of Community Oral Health, led by Dr. Joan Gluch, Penn Dental Medicine increases access to care and high quality dental care services to our neighbors in Philadelphia through the following community care programs: Mercy LIFE, Puentes de Salud, and PennSmiles at Schools/Community Health Centers.

These efforts have the crucial benefit of providing Penn Dental Medicine students with invaluable opportunities to expand their knowledge and skills in community based dental care. Students learn about their role in society in improving health at the population level, as well as gain insight to their patients’ lived experiences while providing much needed dental care. Many prospective students choose Penn Dental Medicine because of our robust offering of experiential community-based courses, and especially the strength of our community-based clinical activities at Penn Dental Medicine community sites that emphasize cultural competence, health literacy, health promotion, ethics, behavior management and practice management.

Dr. Leonard Jensen serves as Penn’s Primary Care Leader/Dental Director to lead faculty and staff working at the community care dental sites. Dental students provide care one day per week for a calendar year beginning in January of the third year continuing through to December of the fourth year.

Community Care Programs

Mercy LIFE (Living Independently for Elders), located at 4508 Chestnut street, provides interdisciplinary medical, dental, behavioral and pharmacy services for elders living in West Philadelphia. Modeled after the national program of all-inclusive care for the elderly, Penn Dental Medicine faculty and students provide oral health education, and diagnostic, preventive, restorative, prosthodontic and surgical dental care as part of the interdisciplinary care team at Mercy LIFE. In Fall 2020, Penn Dental Medicine increased its dental footprint to four dental chairs in a new third-floor dental suite as part of the day services provided to Mercy LIFE participants.

Located at 1700 South Street, Puentes de Salud provides medical and dental care, as well as health education and outreach services, to nearly 9,000 patients in the Philadelphia area, most from Mexico and other Latin American countries. United by their desire to increase access to quality care, Puentes staff includes a wide range of interdisciplinary care providers and students fluent in Spanish who provide care in in a culturally relevant and sensitive manner. Penn Dental Medicine faculty and students provide oral health education, and diagnostic, preventive, restorative and surgical dental care in the three chair dental facility at Puentes de Salud and provide expedited referral for specialty dental care at Penn Dental Medicine’s clinical center at 240 South 40th Street.

Penn Dental Medicine brings healthy smiles to children throughout the Philadelphia community through PennSmiles, an oral health outreach and clinical care program that travels to 24 area schools, Head Start programs and other neighborhood sites. Dental students and faculty provide oral health education and diagnostic, preventive and restorative dental care on the two chair mobile dental vehicle, Penn Smiles, that is fully equipped for on-site care, featuring two dental chairs, panorex dental radiography unit and all necessary equipment for comprehensive dental care.

Community Health Honors Degree Program

Students also have the opportunity in their second, third, and fourth years to apply to the honors degree program in Community Health. The honors program allows talented and motivated students to go beyond the basic requirements to receive an intensive experience in developing and implementing community health programs from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Students enrolled in the Community Health honors degree program provide at least 120 hours in coordinating and staffing these interdisciplinary clinics, and second- and third-year students provide specialized oral health educational programs, complete oral health examinations, and discuss dentist referrals to both the Penn Dental Medicine clinics as well as neighborhood dental centers.