Second-year dental students in the College of Dentistry CARE program, the first class to go through the program since it began. Credit: Courtesy of Tammarra R. Pace

Ohio has 149 locations designated as in need for dental health care practitioners, and in order to remove that designation, 299 more dental practitioners are needed, according to 2019 data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Ohio State College of Dentistry program is working to prepare students to work in those underserved communities. 

Commitment to Access Resources and Education is a program that offers scholarships and an extended curriculum to Ohio State dental students who seek extra classes to better prepare for assisting underserved communities, Patrick Lloyd, dean of the College of Dentistry, said. With new admission spots added this past August, the College of Dentistry now offers 10 more scholarships worth $10,000 each for graduate dental students.

“This is catered to Ohio communities that are dentally underserved,” Pamella Shaw, assistant dean of admissions for the college, said. “There are not enough dental professionals to serve those communities properly.” 

According to the Dentagraphics website, which provides dental demographic reports of areas of interest, Ohio has 3,909 general dental practices, with an average of 2,995 residents per general dental practice — higher than the United States average of 2,616. Bo Bauserman, a first-year dental student, said the underserved communities resonated most with him.

Shaw said that during application, students are asked to provide two letters: one of support from a local dentist who can attest to their passion for the profession, and one of recommendation from a community leader to demonstrate how students are improving the health of their community. Then, students are asked to come in for an interview. 

Students are also required to write a letter of intent, explaining why they want to be in the program and what they expect to gain from it, as well as how they plan to benefit the community and start a practice in an underserved area, Shaw said.

The college receives about 1,200 applications from students pursuing a doctoral degree in dental surgery each year, and once the 120 students are admitted into the program, they are able to apply to CARE, Shaw said. Once students are selected for CARE, they are offered a $10,000 reduction in tuition every year, totaling $40,000 for four years of graduate schooling.

Shaw said to receive the fund, students are required to keep a 3.4 or higher GPA in the program. However, if a student falls below the requirement, they have a semester to get their grades up before losing their funding. 

CARE’s expanded curriculum allows students to attend sessions with different professionals and partake in service projects that include spending time in local practices, Shaw said. Guest speakers who visit the program talk about subjects including paying off student loans and loan programs that would help medical professionals serving in underserved regions, Bauserman said.

“We had a few speakers from the [Ohio Dental Association] come and talk to us about the demographics and counties, and they talked about the ratio of people per dentist and that put some estimates, some numbers from my base, it just really impressed me,” Bauserman said. 

During CARE’s first project during the 2019 winter break, students passed out hygiene kits and talked about good oral care techniques, Bauserman said. Bauserman had the opportunity to go to Family Tree Dental in Marietta, Ohio, and interact with both the dentists and patients, he said.

“The hands-on, going out and going into a practice and doing some projects your first year in dental school, I think it’s a great thing,” he said. 

Shaw said the main objective of the program is to be community oriented. 

“The goal is to have [the students] be ambassadors of understanding how it is to work in the community and go back into the communities, not only to provide the service, but to help the community understand how to serve the population,” Shaw said.