$1.5 Million Grant to Improve Oral Health of Vulnerable Adults in Underserved Areas in Alabama – News

The five-year project will focus on improving efforts to educate and train dental students on how to care for vulnerable populations, including those with substance use disorders.

The five-year project will focus on improving efforts to educate and train dental students on how to care for vulnerable populations, including those with substance use disorders.Faculty at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry have received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to help improve the oral health of vulnerable adults in underserved areas of Alabama.

The UAB Department of Clinical and Community Sciences has a strong partnership with the Alabama Department of Senior Services and will engage in multidisciplinary education and patient care at UAB Medical Clinics.

“This project marks the beginning of preparing our dental students to meet the needs of diverse patient populations, collaborate with non-dental health care professionals to bridge the gap between medical and dental care, and positively impact of the future of our dental workforce,” said Raquel Meiser, DMD, the project’s principal investigator and associate professor in UAB’s Department of Clinical and Community Sciences.

Adults face enormous barriers to oral care, especially those with complex medical conditions or living in under-resourced communities. The five-year project will focus on an interdisciplinary approach to teaching dental students and teaching non-dental professionals how to care for these vulnerable individuals with medically complex and/or behavioral health needs, including those with heart problems or diabetes or who are undergoing treatment for substance use disorders.

“The project and funding will provide coordination of oral and primary care using a patient-centred care approach with interprofessional education and knowledge exchange between dental students, medical students, residents, nurse practitioners and medical students nurses to better treat patients,” said Dr. Michelle Talley .D., associate professor and interim associate dean for the Office of Clinical and Global Partnerships at the UAB School of Nursing and one of the project’s collaborators.

“Oral health is an integral part of overall health and care coordination and is essential for all ages and those facing complex medical problems,” said Eric Wallace, MD, medical director for Telehealth at UAB. “This is especially important as health professionals care for adults living with chronic conditions.”

Nathan Smith, DMD, a project investigator and assistant professor in the Department of Clinical and Community Sciences, says those who face barriers to care often have limited access to health services, especially those over 65 who retain the natural you are dentition. longer than previous counterparts.

“There are several clinical opportunities for dental training through established community-based sites,” Smith said. “The collaboration within and beyond the UAB main campus integrates dental, public health and primary care services and prepares the dental workforce to meet the oral health needs of vulnerable, underserved and rural populations.”

This project will also create a mentoring program for rural Alabama dental students by connecting dental faculty and staff with prospective rural dental students who can benefit from mentoring.

“Rural students are more likely to serve in a small town after graduation,” said Carly Timmons McKenzie, Ph.D., assistant dean of admissions and associate professor at the UAB School of Dentistry. “Often applicants from small towns and rural areas face unique barriers to achieving their vocational school goals. We hope that the development and mentoring program will help them learn more about the profession, prepare for the admissions process and provide additional academic support to successfully navigate the rigors of dental education. This project will create and sustain partnerships to connect and provide the tools for these applicants to succeed and graduate from dental school.”

Alabama’s dire need for dentists

Alabama currently ranks 51st in the U.S. dentist-to-population ratio, with 41 dentists per 100,000 residents, according to the American Dental Association. Additionally, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, 65 of Alabama’s 67 counties experience a shortage of dental professionals due to a number of factors.

UAB’s Lister Hill Center states that approximately 80 percent of all dentists in Alabama practice in the 13 most urban counties. The remaining 20 percent practice in Alabama’s 54 non-urban counties, many of these smaller counties with only one to three dentists. This means about one dentist for every 1,800 people in urban areas and one dentist for every 4,100 people in rural areas.

Since 1990, an average of only about four dentists per class of 55 have chosen to practice in Alabama’s most rural 41 counties, while an average of 8.5 dentists per class of 57 have chosen to practice in one of Alabama’s 54 non-urban counties. Finally, approximately 40 percent of Alabama dental graduates choose to practice out of state.

In addition to the lack of dentists practicing in rural areas, a large portion of Alabama’s dental workforce is reaching retirement age, resulting in an urgent and unmet need for replacement dentists in rural areas. These collaborative initiatives should help mitigate the significant disease burden facing underserved communities and improve access to dental/oral and overall health.

“Oral health is a critical component of both overall health and quality of life,” McKenzie said. “Unfortunately, many residents of these rural areas do not have access to the dental care they need. Through collaborative initiatives like this, we can help alleviate some of the burden these underserved communities face in seeking appropriate dental care.

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