There is a dire need for more dentists in Ohio to serve rural and under-resourced populations. To address that need, NEOMED has announced that it will pursue the development of a College of Dentistry.
The University presented a needs assessment to the NEOMED Board of Trustees during its quarterly meeting held Thursday, Sept. 15 and was granted approval to add a dental college to improve health in Northeast Ohio and beyond.
During the meeting, President John Langell shared reports from Kaiser Family Foundation data and an Ohio Department of Health map among other reports that reflect oral health as being the number one unmet health care need of Ohioans. Dr. Langell remarked on Ohio’s high percentage of counties designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HSPAs) — geographic areas, populations or facilities, that have a shortage of (dental) providers. He added that screening for chronic and acute medical conditions in a dental setting not only improves oral health, but overall health.
“According to the ADA, many patients have limited access to dental treatment due to a variety issues such as socioeconomic status, education and limited access to care; an emergency room visit may be their only option,” said Dr. Langell. “In Ohio, 77 out of 88 counties are considered HPSAs regarding dental care.”
Through the University’s clinical network, NEOMED had been hearing from partners, including Akron Children’s Hospital, Cleveland Clinic Mercy Hospital, Mercy Health — St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, Summa Health, The Cleveland Dental Institute and University Hospitals that there is a maldistribution of dentists and a significant shortage of dental practices, particularly in rural areas. In 2021, the University began exploring the feasibility of a dental college, including the number of training sites for dentists, curricular needs and the financial sustainability.
External Advisory Council
NEOMED recognizes that success would not only mean they would produce more dental providers who would practice in communities of greatest need. The University also acknowledges that the program would be ultimately measured by its improvement in the total health for the entire state of Ohio. Because of this, the approach to training had to be viewed through an integrative lens.
“We’re not building this from scratch. Instead, we are leveraging our existing strengths and expertise. So, we formed an advisory council to develop a multi-directional model of health care education that would integrate oral health into primary care and primary care into the dental setting,” said Dr. Langell.
The External Advisory Council was established to set principles for an innovative dental school that meets the needs of the Northeast Ohio communities and prepares leaders for the future of oral health. The council will also help establish distributive training site commitments and assist in vetting applicants for NEOMED’s College of Dentistry inaugural dean.
Council members include:
- Frank Beck, D.D.S, program director, GPR Dental Residency Program, Mercy Health — St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, External Advisory Council chair
- Linda Burmeister, manager dental services, Cleveland Clinic Mercy Hospital
- Joanne Emery, M.P.A., B.S.N., director of nursing, Summit County Public Health
- Bob Fulton, D.D.S., clinical assistant professor of Internal Medicine at NEOMED
- Paul S. Homick Jr., J.D., president, Mercy Health Foundation Mahoning Valley
- Terence Kelly, M.D. (’18), D.D.S.
- Susan Lawson, director of oral health services, Ohio Association of Community Health Centers
- William Leffler, D.D.S., J.D., owner, Leffler Family Dentistry
- Sarah Mikhail, B.D.S., Mercy Health — St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital
- Donald Morgan, D.D.S., Cleveland Dental Institute
- Marybeth Shaffer, D.M.D., Mercy Health — St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital
- Donna Skoda, RN, director, Summit County Department of Public Health
- Rajiv Taneja, D.M.D., president, Youngstown Dental Association
- Andrew Wojtkowski, D.D.S., Cleveland Clinic Mercy Hospital
- Ted Wymyslo, M.D., retired senior medical advisor, Ohio Association of Community Health Centers
- Robert A Zavodny, D.D.S., Summa Health
“From providing resources to advance the dental profession and improve dental team skills to improving oral health through increased access to care, NEOMED’s goals and objectives are significant,” said Frank Beck, D.D.S, Mercy Health — St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, who serves as chair of the College of Dentistry’s External Advisory Council.
“But we also wanted to develop a collaborative and integrated model to address issues of oral health equity; disparities based upon race, ethnicity and income; and social determinants of health related to oral health care,” added Dr. Beck, who is also an adjunct professor of Internal Medicine at NEOMED.
Now that NEOMED has been granted approval by the Board of Trustees to move forward, the University anticipates receipt of $1 million earmarked by the state of Ohio toward developing a new public dental college. The funding was secured through the state with the help and support of State Sen. Jerry Cirino, who championed having another dental college in Ohio, and State Rep. Gail Pavliga, who helped gain support in the Ohio House.
The University estimates it will take approximately $25 million to successfully launch and sustain the dental college.
“We want to make sure that we respond to this critical need as soon as possible, but we also want to ensure that from the admissions process through the many years of formal education, that intentional decisions are being made to create an educational experience that will improve the health disparities and inequities currently being experienced by so many in our community,” said Dr. Langell. “That requires financial commitments and support by public, civic and private stakeholders.”