Dental Public Health – An Elusive Specialty With a Community Heart

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

When I say I’m a resident in Dental Public Health, I typically receive two responses: #1: “Nice! What do you do?” and #2: “So, do you see patients?” I realize there is no short answer and if that sparked your interest, read on.

We are dentists working in all areas in the community to improve oral health. That is still vague, so I’ll highlight my project as an example. I am partnering with a local Oral Health Program to test an electronic dental referral system in elementary schools. We want to learn if and how the system would improve dental health. If our data shows improvement, we’ll then want to share our findings broadly so other communities can easily implement a similar system.

An important goal for us is health equity promotion. That means we look closely at data patterns to identify populations or communities that might benefit from policy changes or additional resources. We then examine parts of the healthcare structure that can be adjusted to bring us closer to our improvement target. If there is no data available, we won’t stop there.

A key aspect of our work is creating new paths and frameworks as we find innovative solutions to health system challenges. Our role changes constantly as we pivot priorities according to the health needs of the community.

Another important note is that we (almost) never work alone. We love and thrive in collaboration. The success of our work is through partnerships with countless community organizations and health providers. We work closely with medical colleagues for integrated whole person care.

We are wherever the health community needs us. Want to set up a virtual dental home in a rural area? We’ll be there. Looking for a workshop on oral health integration on the topic of sleep apnea? Schedule one with us. Need to evaluate a new health program but don’t know where to start? We can help! Seeking leadership in building community health coalitions? We’ll be right there.

In summary, the answer to #1 would be: Our activities are diverse, but we prioritize the health needs of the community. And #2: Possibly, depending on our jurisdiction of licensure. We mainly serve the community as our patient.

This was a short hello to our community. We may not be easy to recognize since we do not typically wear scrubs or hold dental instruments, but one thing is certain — we look forward to serving our community and would love to discuss our next health improvement initiative with you!