Dentists are in the top five percent of health professionals in the high-risk category for becoming infected with the Coronavirus (COVID-19). This new reality is causing the dental profession to rethink how it keeps its members and patients safe by focusing on public health.
The University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine recently started a dual degree program with the Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH) and there’s no better time than now for this collaboration. After holding student information sessions this spring, the DDS-MPH program already has a cohort of six students that will begin coursework this summer.
“The only silver lining of COVID-19 that I see is that public health is back in business,” says program director Tamanna Tiwari, DDS, MPH. “From now on (COVID era), dentistry is not going to be the same. We need to equip our current and future students to understand the details of public health.”
The dual degree program is open to students who are accepted in the DDS program. Students can join the MPH program within the first two years of dental school. The MPH program requires students complete 42 credits—nine of which are already part of the current DDS curriculum.
“We have a lot of public health content integrated in the curriculum for all four years and now with the DDS/MPH dual degree program; our school can be a destination for people looking for a career in public health,” Tiwari says.
Students desire to help the community, inspired by program
Gilbert Fru, DDS ’23, who is part of the first cohort of DDS-MPH students, applied to CU Dental when he learned the dual degree offering was in the pipeline.
“Public health is one of the reasons I decided to get into dentistry—being part of a community, there’s so much you can do,” Fru says.
He witnessed how people in his native Cameroon were unable to see the dentist for significant problems such as abscesses, let alone general cleanings.
“The mindset is a little different. Not a lot of people are exposed to dentistry, especially early in their lives,” he says. Without oral care, people can see a decline in their general health and well-being.
“Community public health allows you just to do more than treat the person in your chair,” Fru says.
For Juan Rodriguez, DDS ’23, working on the DDS-MPH dual degree is a natural fit since he’s been part of community service projects since he was a child.
“I took the community public health course during my first year of dental school. Dr. (Bill) Bailey said, ‘You tend to focus on a smile. Behind every smile is a patient. Behind every patient, there’s a family. And behind every family, there’s a community.’ How can I as a dentist help in any way, shape or form to address health disparities in Colorado and provide access to care,” Rodriguez says.
Rodriguez, who is a first-generation college student from Colorado Springs, spent part of his childhood visiting his father family ranch in Mexico. He wants to use the public health knowledge to help people who live nearby and would frequent his grandmother’s small convenience store.
“I wonder how I can make a real impact in a community that has an hour-and-half drive to receive medical care,” he says. “I think it’s important for all dentists to have some understanding of public health and for me, I certainly wanted to know it at the mastery level.”
Since the classes are online, students can choose one of 23 concentrations offered through the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, or Colorado State University, Fort Collins.
“I think my concentration is going to be on leadership because I’m thinking of starting a non-profit organization that will help improve dentistry in Cameroon,” says Fru, who is the president-elect of the Student National Dental Association and a senator of CU Anschutz Medical Campus Student Government. “I want to provide access to care to people who are not as privileged as me.”