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Improving dental education, patient care in a community health setting

National grant funding is allowing the Advanced Education in General Dentistry program to create better experiences for students and patients
graduate dental students assists professor at an off-site clinic

A ripple effect of positive change is occurring in the Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) program at Texas A&M University College of Dentistry, thanks to five-year grant funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

With the grant funding, AEGD began phasing in changes last July by receiving approval to add two part-time faculty members, a lab technician, a teaching fellow, one or two additional graduate students to its current eight, and rotating graduate students to work at the new Dr. M.C. Cooper Dental Clinic in South Dallas.

Program graduate student Neusha Rahmati, DDS, ’20 said her hands-on community service experience at the off-site clinic this semester has been exactly the professional enrichment she had hoped for.

“Without the Cooper clinic rotation, I would not have had the opportunity to serve the underserved residents of Dallas, help treat their emergent pain or infections, and gain more experience in extracting teeth,” Rahmati said. “It has been wonderful being able to use both the clinical and patient management skills I developed in residency in a community health setting.”

Since Rahmati and her fellow graduate students started working at the clinic last month, she said both students and patients directly benefit from the implemented improvements, which have seeped into all aspects of the program.

“We have more faculty to work with, which widens our scope of learning,” she said. “A lab technician allows us to complete more lab work in house, which benefits our patients, as well as giving us the ability to be more involved in the lab process. As time goes on, these changes will become even more beneficial for following classes.”

That’s exactly the growth AEGD Director Amirali Zandinejad, DDS, MSc, and AEGD Associate Program Director Marta Revilla León, DDS, MSD, hoped for. They are particularly pleased with the improved faculty-to-student ratio, which now touts more one-on-one interactions instead of one faculty member working with seven or eight graduate students at a time.

“This way the residents can be more efficient, quicker, faster. That improves their education, first, because faculty can spend more time with each resident,” Zandinejad said. “And now maybe treatment takes fewer appointments, because more faculty means everybody is more efficient. Plus, the revenue goes up.”

Patients also benefit by needing fewer appointments. It typically takes six to eight sessions to make a denture, but fewer visits may be required once a lab technician starts making dentures onsite, said Zandinejad. He also predicts cost savings as a result of eliminating unnecessary chair-side time.

“Lots of advantages. I see lots of potential,” he said.

Outside clinic experience is a whole new scenario for the AEGD graduate students, who, in the past, only provided care on-site at the College of Dentistry. Being out in the community gives graduate students a better sense of independence, both Zandinejad and Rahmati said, which wasn’t as attainable at the school clinic.

“Being in a smaller clinic gives the sense of working in a real-world practice as opposed to working in a larger school building,” Rahmati said. “The staff dentist there, Dr. Renicke Moss, is also very highly trained in oral surgery, and it was a wonderful and enriching experience learning and working alongside him.”

The feeling is mutual for Moss, who said he is enjoying the collaboration immensely on many levels, mostly because the graduate students’ presence has improved efficiency.

“I am actually hands-on providing treatment to patients daily, as are the residents,” Moss said. “In this setting, the AEGD residents are literally my co-workers. An overwhelming majority of our patients require one or more teeth to be extracted. We want to get our patients out of immediate pain and prepare them for comprehensive dental treatment.”

Although the uncertainty and distraction of dealing with COVID-19 slowed down implementing the grant-supported changes, Zandinejad said his plan is falling perfectly into place. He credits Daniel Jones, PhD, DDS, of public health sciences for being instrumental in securing the grant, which includes a second portion benefiting the pediatric dentistry department’s efforts to expand their work in special-needs dentistry.

“In 2025, definitely I want to go more for community services. Again, if we have the resources, like Dr. Jones can help us, I think we may be able to find other venues to get more grants or renew this grant to improve different aspects of education,” Zandinejad said.

This story originally appeared in Dentistry Insider.

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