HSDM Secures $3 Million Grant to Expand Dental Public Health in Rural Areas

June 25, 2020
Rural New Hampshire

Harvard School of Dental Medicine’s department of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology (OHPE) in collaboration with the Office of Global and Community Health (OGCH) was recently awarded a $3 million postdoctoral training grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Bureau of Health Workforce to address gaps in dental education and access to care in underserved and vulnerable populations in rural areas.

The five-year grant titled Catalyzing Oral Health Workforce for Rural and Vulnerable Populations will create the first and only Dental Public Health (DPH) Residency in the country with a dedicated rural track according to Dr. Mary Tavares, DPH program director in OHPE and principal investigator. Work will be focused in New Hampshire, a state that faces an aging population and dental workforce shortage similar to many rural areas throughout the U.S. HSDM will partner with the Bi-State Primary Care Association, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, New Hampshire’s only academic medical center, as well as several rural care delivery sites in New Hampshire.

Dr. Mary Tavares
Dr. Mary Tavares
“As a state without a dental school or residency programs, New Hampshire’s collaboration with HSDM will help to grow its dental workforce with the advanced skill-set and cultural competency required to meet the needs of underserved residents, especially those in rural areas with limited resources.” Tavares said.

New Hampshire is one of the smallest states, yet nine of its ten counties are considered “rural.” Its population is most sparse in the northern and western regions of the state where distance creates a challenge in accessing dental care. Several counties in northern N.H. are designated as low-income Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas. Additionally, N.H. is a state with one of the oldest median ages. The aging population includes the dental workforce, with nearly half of N.H. dentists over age 55 with plans to retire on the horizon. The grant will help establish a new pipeline of providers trained in serving the needs of rural communities.

“We propose to create an Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) residency led by Dr. John Zdanowicz assistant professor in OHPE, and add a dedicated track to our Dental Public Health residency led by Dr. Steffany Chamut, Co-PI and instructor in OHPE, to address oral health care delivery in rural areas with a focus on vulnerable, elderly and underserved groups," said Dr. Christine Riedy, chair and associate professor of OHPE at HSDM.

According to research by the Center for Integration of Primary Care and Oral Health (CIPCOH) co-led by Dr. Shenam Ticku, instructor in OHPE and Dr. Tien Jiang, instructor in OHPE, the majority of AEGD and GPR residencies have a gap within their curricula with scant coverage of rural health and the social determinants of health. The new residencies will deliver didactic instruction and clinical rotations with experienced mentors that will prepare primary care and public health dentists to work with underserved populations.

“For the students, the clinical sites serving these communities will provide an unparalleled experience in providing care in rural settings,” added Tavares.

By the end of the five-year project period, Tavares anticipates a total of 17 dental graduates.  For more information about the rural track AEGD and DPH Residency programs for July 2021, contact the department of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology.