IU School of Dentistry addresses workforce shortages in underserved areas

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – According to the CDC, almost 20 percent of children have untreated dental cavities. That's 31 percent for adults. Although some of us tend to put off going to the dentist, for others, they're not going because they don't have access.

To help, the IU School of Dentistry is working to increase services in shortage areas around Indiana, strengthening the oral health workforce, one filling at a time.

Elizabeth Simpson is a Dentist for the Jane Pauley Community Dental Center on the east side of Indianapolis.

"I'm here serving this patient population every day,” said Simpson. “This is like a dream combination of teaching students and public health."

It’s a combination that can continue thanks to a $1.6 million grant.

"This grants aims to increase the number of dentists in those areas, in those shortage areas, as well as increase access to care, quality oral health care, in those areas," said Tammy Button, Director of Community Based Dental Education.

According to an IU press release, the grant called "Strengthening the Oral Health Workforce in Indiana through an Innovative Community-Based Dental Education Model" is a collaboration among the dental school, the Bowen Center for Health Workforce Research and Policy at the IU School of Medicine, and the Indiana State Department of Health/State Oral Health Director.

It gives students the chance to work in clinics around the state providing dental care to underserved areas.

"Expand students’ presence throughout the community as well as improving oral health care for people of the state," said the dean of the IU School of Dentistry, John Williams.

"The east side of Indianapolis is one of them, so it's really nice they got the grant and we're able to serve this community," said current student, John Gutterman.

The IU School of Dentistry says the need is critical. That's as more communities are dealing with factors like poverty, lack of transportation and difficulty in finding providers.

"The statistics are very clear to us,” said Williams. “There are huge areas of under-served people in this state. This grant will hopefully in part, work to help alleviate those needed areas and needed services.”

Fourth-year dental students will go to clinics in shortage areas. Simpson says there are a lot of groups that are underrepresented in the field of dentistry.

"We have a lot of Hispanic patients, a lot of African American patients. Seeing somebody who looks like what I look like, I also speak Spanish, and you see somebody doing something that you never thought you could do just because you don't see somebody that looks like you doing it," said Simpson.

It’s showing patients and students that the dentistry field is worth drilling into.

"It sort of opens their eyes to something that they thought they couldn't do before," said Simpson.

Here's the list of locations where the IU School of Dentistry will be providing services.

  • Eskenazi Health Center Cottage Corner, Indianapolis
  • Eskenazi Health Center Grassy Creek, Indianapolis
  • Eskenazi Health West 38th Street, Indianapolis
  • The Jane Pauley Community Dental Center, Indianapolis
  • HealthLinc Community Health Centers, Valparaiso and Michigan City
  • Matthew 25 Health and Dental Clinic, Fort Wayne
  • Wabash Valley Health Center, Terre Haute

Students will also rotate through the new Stone Family Center for Health Sciences in Evansville. By expanding across Indiana, the school hopes they will help serve patients that otherwise, wouldn't be visiting the dentist.

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