Legislative Day 2017: Dental Health

Three students who visited the NEOMED campus for Legislative Day July 28—the capstone to the Summer Practicum in Public Health—reflect on the experience. All three were starting their College Year 2 at NEOMED partner schools and will begin classes at the College of Medicine in fall 2018.

Kajal Madan, University of Akron

“And group 5 is dental health.” All right, so we just tell people to brush their teeth, floss, and us mouthwash twice a day. That’s it, right? Little did we know how oversimplified our perception of dental health was.

Medical Seminar and Practicum is a public health class that BS/MD students take during the summer of their College Year 2 at Northeast Ohio Medical University. In this class, we were assigned a public health topic. We identified a problem within that topic and then proposed an intervention that addresses the issue in the community. At the end of the course, we presented our intervention to Jared Easton Holt, State Government Relations Director at the University of Toledo. 

After conducting research and talking to our community expert, Rajesh Vij, D.D.S., we realized the pressing need for pediatric dental care in the Akron area. One notable disparity in Summit County is access to fluoridated water. As a lack of fluoride is detrimental to dental health, oral health issues have become prevalent in fluoride-deficient areas. Our intervention was to provide vouchers for free fluoride tablets to children at a targeted elementary school.

This project allowed us to apply what we learned inside the classroom to a relevant issue in our community. Rather than assessing downstream measures that focused on medical treatment, my group utilized upstream measures that could prevent oral complications. Since medicine is becoming increasingly dependent on public health, it is crucial to consider these factors as a future physician.

Presenting our ideas was an eye-opening experience, because we realized our proposal could become a reality. As we voiced our concerns, we emphasized the significance of oral health, especially for young children. Despite common perception, teeth are just as important to your well-being as any other body part. Rather than cringing at the taste of grape fluoride during your next dental visit, take a moment to smile and appreciate the magic of proper oral hygiene.

Alexander Nibling, Kent State University

After seven weeks of hard work, my Kent State dental health group was extremely nervous to present our public health intervention. We had gathered around our poster to express our nervous feelings before the start of Legislative Day, where government officials would decide on the quality of the interventions for each school and each public health topic. Our intervention was a “tooth fairy day” to help both at-risk elementary school children and their parents in Portage County with free dental screenings. All of our hard work seemed much more daunting when faced with the task of explaining it to officials. But soon after we set up our poster about our intervention, Northeast Ohio Medical University President Jay A. Gershen, D.D.S., Ph.D., had some wonderful insight to give us. He commented about how he liked the scope of our intervention, and even gave helpful tips on what he understands about the health disparity of dental cavities. His kind words of wisdom gave us confidence when we went to finally present our “tooth fairy day” idea to the Northeast Ohio Regional Representative for Sherrod Brown, Sarah Lowry. Our shared appreciation for our intervention kicked in as we gave a passionate appeal. We were no longer held back by our inhibitions about presenting to our legislator, and at the end of the day, we looked back at our achievements with great pride.

Punita Peketi, University of Akron

When Dr. Vij explained to my research group that a dental van had spent around 30 days in Springfield and Norton but only one or two days in the rest of the cities, such as Tallmadge, in order to fix oral issues, I was confused.

I could not fathom, why, within this 20-mile radius, there was such a difference in the number of children with issues such as cavities, or decayed and missing teeth.

Through research and discussions with our community expert, Rajesh Vij, D.D.S., my practicum dental health group slowly learned how socioeconomic factors, education levels, geographic location and other trends play a huge role in medicine, even dental health. Dental health only seems to be an issue when something goes wrong—affecting every part of one’s lifestyle from eating to talking to self-confidence. However, it is often overlooked. Therefore, individuals with lower social status often have less time and resources to put the extra effort needed for the continual dental care that prevents simple plaque deposits from progressing into major issues such as unfilled cavities, tooth decay and gum diseases. But on top of all this, in cities such as Springfield and Norton, residents mainly rely on non-fluoridated well water, making matters worse.

With the accumulation of multiple and uncontrollable negative determinants, a heavy burden is already thrust upon the children in these communities at a young age.

Our dental health project worked on a plan that distributes fluoride pills to these disadvantaged communities. Just as my group investigated Norton and Springfield to a deeper level, I want to understand my community’s determinants as a physician. I always imagined being able to run a medical van, treating patients who need it most. But now I realize that I can do more, working with public health policies to stop the common issues before a van even needs to start.

Supporting Public Health in the Community

The Summer Practicum in Public Health was coordinated by Kim M.K. Trowbridge, M.Ed., a graduate faculty member in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. Through NEOMED’s College of Graduate Studies, Trowbridge is also faculty for the Consortium of Eastern Ohio Master of Public Health program, a nontraditional program geared toward the working professional.

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