University aims to make dentistry more diverse
BUFFALO, N.Y., U.S.: A student at the University at Buffalo (UB) School of Dental Medicine has developed a new initiative that aims to remove barriers to studying dentistry for students of color. The free program, named Destination Dental School, is open to eligible undergraduate students from all over the U.S. and will provide them with a number of mentoring, training and sponsorship opportunities.
Destination Dental School is open to undergraduate students from underrepresented minority groups from all states and will provide participants with access to mentorship from UB dental students and faculty members, hands-on simulation activities, and assistance with applying for dental studies. Part of the initiative is the sponsorship of eligible students to sit the standardized Dental Admission Test.
Destination Dental School will take place at the university on Saturdays from June 4 to July 31, and students are encouraged to apply online by Feb. 28.
Arian Johnson—now a fourth-year dental student at UB—conceived of the program after having encountered difficulties applying for her own dental studies. In a UB press release, Johnson said: “I realized there was a lack of resources for students like myself. As an undergraduate student, I had some advisement but I needed more guidance. I didn’t know the right classes to take, my timeline was off, I didn’t take the right test prep, and my professors wouldn’t give me a recommendation.”
“Increasing the number of underrepresented students in dentistry will improve access to oral health care in underserved communities”
– Dr. Dana M. Keblawi, University at Buffalo
Dr. Dana M. Keblawi, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion in the UB School of Dental Medicine, said: “Disparities in oral health and health care are realities that were only highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. By increasing diversity in our student body and, eventually, in dental practitioners, we can better serve our diverse community. Increasing the number of underrepresented students in dentistry will improve access to oral health care in underserved communities.”
According to a 2017 study undertaken by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, the underrepresentation of minority groups in the U.S. dental workforce raises concerns about social justice and about disparities in oral health status and access to dental care.
The study found that applications to dental schools by students from underrepresented minority groups increased from 12.1% in 2000 to 15.3% in 2015. During this period, enrollment of students from these groups increased from 10.5% to 14.5%. “Yet the enrollment numbers still fall far short of population parity,” the study said. The researchers quantified the underrepresented minority dental workforce and found that it was disproportionately smaller and less evenly distributed than were minority populations in the country. The researchers wrote that bringing parity between the demographics of the U.S. dental workforce and minority group’s share of the population would require the addition to the workforce of 19,714 African American dentists, 31,214 Hispanic or Latino dentists and 2,825 American Indian or Alaska Native dentists.