Penn Dental Medicine Student Empowers African Oral Health Initiatives


John Button (left) pictured with Dr. Ramat Braimah, Department of Dental and Maxillofacial Surgery at Usmanu Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital in Sokoto, Nigeria.

Philadelphia – John Button (D’26), a second-year student at Penn Dental Medicine, participated in the conference “Evidence to Policy: Accelerating the Implementation of the Regional and Global Strategies on Oral Health in the World Health Organization (WHO) Africa Region,” hosted by Penn Dental Medicine’s Center for Integrative Global Oral Health (CIGOH) in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO). The conference, held in Kenya, featured oral health experts and educators from across Africa.

“John’s strong interest and commitment to African-related diseases, as well as his interest in policy, made him invaluable at this conference,” says Dr. Michael Glick (GD’88), Fields-Rayant Professor and Executive Director of CIGOH. The goal of the conference was to bring together oral health leaders and experts from different African nations to discuss the oral health needs of the populations across their respective countries.

Button at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi National Park.

As a fluent French speaker, Button helped moderate discussions between the French-speaking delegates along with Dr. Ihsane Ben Yahya, the Dean of Dental Faculty at the Medicine University Mohammed VI of Health Science in Casablanca, Morocco, and the immediate Past President of the World Dental Federation (FDI). Together, both Button and Ben Yahya worked with several dental school deans, chief dental officers, and other oral health professionals from francophone countries in the WHO Africa Region, including Mali, Senegal, Algeria, Guinea, DRC, Morocco, and more.

“John was instrumental in integrating the French speakers into the conference,” says Dr. Alsono Carrasco-Labra, Associate Professor and Director, Cochrane Oral Health Collaborating Center at Penn Dental Medicine. Discussions focused on current oral health barriers faced by those in their respective countries and the development and implementation of oral health programs. As a current DMD student, Button recently began the new Master of Oral and Population Health (MOPH) program. “Having the opportunity to learn about the challenges and opportunities facing oral health programs and professionals across Africa was a life-changing learning experience,” says Button. He hopes to use the first-hand experiences he had in Kenya as well as the MOPH program to inform how best to create and implement evidence-based oral health policies.

Button also has a long-standing interest in bringing more attention to a little-known dental disease called noma. This conference introduced Button to dental practitioners and oral health experts leading the way toward increased dental coverage and oral health awareness across Africa, as well as those combating noma in their own practice. As part of Button’s advocacy work, he now sits on the Advisory Committee for the International Noma Network. Through this committee, he will continue to raise awareness of noma and the Network’s monthly research webinars. Additionally, he’ll translate documents between French and English to include as many noma stakeholders in the discussions as possible. Hoping to raise greater public awareness, Button recently published an article on the WHO’s recognition of noma after years of medical-dental disconnect.

“I feel so fortunate to have had this incredible learning and networking experience. I want to dedicate my life to improving the oral and systemic health of those living in rural and underserved areas,” says Button. “Attending this conference helped to solidify this goal for me as well as introduce me to role models and contacts doing that work in the field.”