Philadelphia – Penn Dental Medicine DMD students are strengthening their skills and understanding in treating the youngest of patients – children from birth to 5 years of age – through support from a U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration grant, awarded to the School’s Divisions of Pediatric Dentistry and Community Oral Health starting this academic year. Designed to enhance dental students’ course work and clinical/community outreach experiences with young children, the program recently received a supplemental award for the first year to address childhood obesity prevention as well, bringing the total program award to $1.53 million over five years.
“While dental students provide clinical care with children as part of their dental school clinical education, they often have limited experiences with very young children,” says Dr. Joan Gluch, Division Chief of Community Oral Health and project director on the grant. “Many areas of the country have few pediatric dentists, so many children are not getting care unless it is from a general dentist. Our view is that every general dentist should feel comfortable in examining a child at any age and referring children to specialists as needed.”
To reach that goal, the project has been designed to increase the knowledge, skills, and experience in treating children from birth to age five for all second-, third-, and fourth-year DMD students. “We have chosen to build on course work, clinical experiences and community rotations throughout the second, third and fourth years to ensure dental students gain a sufficient level of knowledge and experiences and have the time to understand and complete best practices,” says Dr. Gluch.
Dr. Betty Hajishengallis, Division Chief of Pediatric Dentistry, Dr. Maria Velasco, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatric Dentistry, and Community Oral Health public health hygienist Deanne Wallaert are key staff members on the project. They will develop eight new educational modules in community health and pediatric dentistry regarding cultural competency, health literacy, social determinants of health, behavior management, oral health prevention, and restorative dental care, along with the prevention of childhood obesity. As part of the supplemental award for the first year of the project, faculty will collaborate with Dr. Terri Lipman and Amani Abdullah from Penn’s School of Nursing on the development of the content for integrating childhood obesity prevention training into the course work and clinical and community experiences, with work just getting underway on these latest additions.
The project also includes a significant increase in clinical experiences in both the School’s pediatric clinic and community sites. Beginning with the 2018-19 academic year, second-year students will now double their community rotations to 24 hours, providing oral health education and preventive care with children and their families as well as observing the dental care provided by third- and fourth-year students. For third- and fourth-year students, clinical experiences treating very young children will be expanded with an additional eight sessions (4 days) in the School’s pediatric clinic and eight sessions (4 days) in Penn-affiliate community sites. The community sites include Philadelphia FIGHT; Sayre Health Center, a school-based federally qualified health center; Homeless Health Initiative of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and Puentes de Salud, a South Philadelphia clinic run by Penn Medicine.
“We will be tracking outcomes, including our graduates’ practice patterns after graduation,” says Dr. Gluch. “We believe this added training, which we anticipate can be sustainable beyond the life of the grant, will help ensure our graduates are well prepared to provide care to this vulnerable population so children have a healthy start from their first tooth and first dental visit.”