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How dental students are gaining interprofessional experience while aiding the underserved
Students at the Texas A&M College of Dentistry thrive on clinical experience with real patients and the Agape Clinic nearby—about five blocks from the college—was in need of dental care providers. It was a perfect match, but far more than just practicing their dental techniques, the students are learning about the importance of seeing that all of their patients’ health care needs are met because Agape provides full medical care as well.
Although dental students have been providing screenings for pediatric patients at the clinic for some time, patients can now receive comprehensive dental care—everything from routine cleanings to fillings and extractions. Agape is just the latest example of the College of Dentistry’s commitment to community service and increasing access to oral health care in North Dallas.
For several years now, the College of Dentistry had used funding from the Medicaid 1115 Healthcare Transformation Waiver to provide dental care at three north Dallas nonprofit clinics: North Dallas Shared Ministries, the Irving Community Clinic and Healing Hands Ministries. Through the same funds, the college was able to purchase $600,000 of dental equipment and chairs to fill the half of the Agape Clinic’s ground floor that is devoted to dental care. Long-term plans are to provide fixed and removable prosthodontics, with crowns, bridges and full dentures.
“We had also secured grant funds from the United States Health Resources and Services Administration that allowed us to pursue interprofessional education for both pre-doctoral and postdoctoral students,” said Paul Hoffmann, administrative director of extramural clinics at the college. Students and faculty screen their dental patients for common ailments like diabetes and hypertension and make sure they are referred to the appropriate medical staff for treatment. “At the same time, on the medical side, intake staff ask patients about their oral health and refer them to us if they haven’t visited a dentist in the last year. It was perfect to introduce this model of holistic care to Agape.”
The holistic care includes behavioral and mental health services and even social services like help with insurance issues.
The current number of patient visits at Agape each year average about 10,500, but that figure is expected to double. “It’s working great,” Hoffmann said. “We have traditionally had an artificial separation between dental and medical care. It’s an extraordinary to teach our students that this doesn’t have to be the case.”
The students do seem to appreciate the connection. “As modern health care is trending towards a more integrated approach to reduce overall costs, it is vital that students get adequate exposure to these trends,” said Talon A. Davis, a third-year dental student who recently did his rotation at the clinic. “In working at Agape, it becomes clear that they take a comprehensive approach to medical treatment and that no discipline is more important than any other, which provides a unique opportunity for us to learn the nuances of dentistry as it pertains to both individual treatment and broader systems of care.”
“Many of the patients we see at Agape are referrals from other non-profits that may serve the chronically homeless, refugees, women who have escaped abusive environments—and even though the patients come with a variety of personal histories, one thing is true for all of them: they have never had access to quality dental care,” said Stephanie Bohan, executive director of the Agape Clinic. “Our patients routinely stop me and hold my hand with tears in their eyes and thank me because they know one day they will be proud to smile. The impact of this program has been profound in improving and changing the futures for so many, and because of the College of Dentistry, they have hope of first a better smile, and then a better life!”
Media contact: Dee Dee Grays, email@example.com, 979.436.0611