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New program in U’s School of Dentistry helps improve access to dental care in Utah

exterior of the Ray and Noorda Oral health Sciences Building


Although there are more dentists per capita living in Utah than in almost any other state, 18 of 29 counties in the state are nevertheless designated as “dental health professional shortage areas.” Additionally, Utah has 35 high-needs clinics where dental health professionals are desperately needed.

The poor distribution of Utah’s dental workforce has left too few dental health professionals to meet the needs of many Utahans across the state. In general, our rural, tribal, and minority communities are most significantly impacted by these shortages and have worse health outcomes due to the lack of access. One of the strategies that the University of Utah School of Dentistry has enacted to address this disparity is an admissions program called PRE-CAP.

Through the recruitment and focused training of students who come from these high-needs rural, tribal, and/or medically underserved communities, we hope to increase access to care organically as these new dentists return to practice in the areas where they grew up and plan to live. PRE-CAP sources potential candidates from the traditional dental school admissions cycle, identifying those whose metrics do not yet meet the minimum standard for admission. Instead, up to three students are offered conditional acceptance to the subsequent year’s class, contingent upon their successful completion of the PRE-CAP curriculum.

Enrolled students are provided with scholarship support and cost-of-living stipends to remove any financial barriers. They also receive targeted support and mentorship to address academic barriers. Participants in the program complete a rigorous one-year curriculum that blends traditional health sciences content with an exploration of social determinants of health. This program is designed to prepare them to transition successfully both into the full-time dental education curriculum and into their subsequent careers.

The program also emphasizes interprofessional collaboration as a key to successful patient advocacy and acknowledges that any multidisciplinary effort to restore health to these communities will be more successful when individuals from those communities are empowered directly. PRE-CAP students train alongside medical students, social workers, and community health advocates which prepares them to help patients navigate the structural barriers that adversely impact their oral health. This philosophy is not unique to the dental school, in fact PRE-CAP was inspired by the same style of program implemented in the School of Medicine’s PROMIS2U program. These collaborative, student-centered programs offer an opportunity to transform future generations entirely.

For more information about this innovative new program that is reshaping dental care in Utah, please visit the PRE-CAP webpage on the School of Dentistry website.

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Carter Bruett, DDS, MEd

Dec 13, 2023 8:02 AM