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School of Dentistry

Improving Oral Care for Everyone in Utah

Have you ever wondered why, in the United States, oral health is treated separately  from  the  rest  of  our  health?  Why  dental  insurance  is separate from the rest of our medical benefits? Isn’t oral health an integral part of our overall health? That’s the exact point that Wyatt “Rory”  Hume,  DDS,  PhD,  has  been  trying  to  make  for  years.  “We  have  found  ample  evidence  that  access  to  oral  care  is  linked  to  a  person’s  overall improved health and higher quality of life,” says Hume, dean of the University of Utah School of Dentistry.

And yet it’s estimated that more than 40% of people  who  live  in  the  U.S. don’t  have  dental  insurance.  Those disparities are compounded for historically excluded populations. Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans endure  higher  rates  of  gum  disease  and  tooth  decay. And nearly one-third of low-income adults say that poor dental health affects their ability to interview for  a  job.  Overall,  it’s  estimated  that  untreated  oral  disease causes $45 billion in lost productivity. Those are some of the primary reasons the School of  Dentistry  was  founded  in  2012:  to  provide  needed  oral  care  to  Utah’s  under-resourced  residents.  Celebrating  its  10-year  anniversary  in  2022,  the  school  is  rapidly growing its robust network of clinics and partnerships. As the primary provider for Medicaid dental benefits in the state, this work expands access to dental eligibility, spares patients from a variety of medical ailments,  meets  the  needs  of  specific  communities,  and saves the state money. “We are proud to provide essential services to Utah’s underserved communities,” Hume says.

Conveniently located services are key to keeping people  healthy,  especially  for  communities  where  transportation  is  challenging.  The  school  recently  opened two new community dental clinics in Salt Lake City’s Rose Park neighborhood and Ogden, bringing its total to eight dental clinics throughout the Wasatch Front and St. George. Those clinics serve a variety of patients,  including  school-age  children,  New  Americans, veterans, elderly, blind and disabled individuals, and  those  who  are  undergoing  treatment  for  drug  dependency. In  addition  to  creating  one  of  the  nation’s  best  dental  school  clinic  networks,  the  school  also  has  a  Mobile  Dental  Clinic  that  reaches  under-resourced  patients  in  rural  parts  of  Utah.  Since  its  inception  at  the beginning of 2022, the mobile clinic has provided important oral care to patients in Blanding, Junction, Beaver, Kanab, Roosevelt, Fort Duchesne, Castle Dale, Price,  Manti,  Ephraim,  Logan,  Tremonton,  and  other  Utah towns. This augments a growing network of Medicaid  partner  dentists  throughout  the state.

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While the mobile clinic provides much-needed care, the end goal is to have dentists who live in the community. Thanks to ongoing funding from the state legislature, the school has also established a career pathway for Utah students in rural areas.

The pathway readies rural undergrad students who are interested in dentistry with personalized mentorship and advising, along with rotations and externships through Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) at select universities and colleges. Rural students can then participate in the school’s Pre-Cap program, which offers a pre-dental yearlong course pathway directly toward formal application to the School of Dentistry. Upon graduation, selected rural students can be eligible for student loan repayment if they elect to practice dentistry in a rural Utah community and treat Medicaid patients.

Meanwhile, the School of Dentistry continues to provide exceptional education to students and develop remarkable potential for research.  The Class of 2026 also has a 50/50 ratio of female and male students for the first time ever. “The future of our school looks bright,” Hume says. “Our continued growth puts us in a position to quickly become one of the most important research institutions for community-based oral health in the nation.”

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