Community Dentistry

Dr. Suchitra Nelson, Interim Chair
Portrait of Dr. Suchitra Nelson

Dr. Suchitra Nelson is an epidemiologist who has worked at the School of Dental Medicine since 1991. She is also the Director of the DMD-Masters in Clinical Research dual-degree training program, one of few such training programs in the dental schools nationally. Her research interests are in the area of oral health disparities with the main goal of reducing disparities in poor, minority, and special needs children and adults.

The Department of Community Dentistry is the link between the School of Dental Medicine, the greater Cleveland community and beyond. The mission of the Department of Community Dentistry is to reduce disparities in oral health care for minorities and the underserved. We provide high quality oral health education, examinations, preventive services (dental sealants) and referrals for children in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) while exposing dental students to the needs of underserved children and the communities in which they live.

The Department of Community Dentistry has several programs which involve health services, education and research and are a resource for graduate students studying dental care systems. These programs have as their goal the protection and improvement of the oral health of individual patients and of the community at large. Faculty members of the department have research programs of their own and teach and serve on committees of graduate students from various departments of the University (Community Health Nursing, Epidemiology and Nutrition).

The department has organized a research network of 255 general dentists in northern Ohio as a laboratory for health services research in dentistry. This network includes 45 African-American dentists, gender distribution that slightly oversamples female dentists, urban, suburban, and rural dentists and an age distribution similar to that described in national samples. Dentists drawn from the network have participated in two pilot direct observation studies, two studies of attitudes towards tobacco cessation programs in dental practice, and a study of computer usage in dental practice. A four-year NIH grant ($2.3 million) supported a major direct observation study of prevention in dental practice that will involve 120 network practices and over 6000 patient visits.

Head Start Outreach Program

Man inspecting a child's teeth.

This service is targeted to every child in our community who has not seen a dentist in the last six months. Having partnered with Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, CWRU School of Dental Medicine is taking the lead to fight against early childhood cavities, the number one chronic infectious disease in children in America.

Learn more about the Head Start Outreach Program.

Healthy Smiles Sealant Program

Two dentists inspecting a child

The mission of the Healthy Smiles Sealant Program is to reduce disparities in oral health care for underserved school children in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, the second largest school district in Ohio.

To achieve this mission, temporary clinics are set up at each CMSD elementary school, where pre-doctoral dental students perform dental exams and apply sealants to children in grades 2, 3 and 6. Children have cavity-free teeth sealed and, for those with cavities, are referred by our program coordinator to a community dentist or a safety-net provider for further treatment. Prior to treatment, health educators visit the schools to teach children about general health care, oral health care, and nutritional health. Lesson plans for teachers are provided monthly to reinforce the message conveyed by the health educators.

The program is supported by the Saint Luke's Foundation of Cleveland (up to $600,000 annually), and the educational component has been supported by several foundations along with the School of Dental Medicine. During the 2010-2011 school year, the Sealant Program visited all 76 CMSD schools and treated over 5,300 children with 16,000 sealants.

Learn more about the Healthy Smiles Sealant Program.

Family First Program

Dentist inspecting a child

The Department of Community Dentistry also administers the Family First Program. Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) School of Dental Medicine's pre-doctoral curriculum emphasizes experiential learning and inclusion of clinical experiences in each year of the curriculum. Curriculum components called cornerstone experiences (ACEs) employ a "just-in-time" approach to learning, such that integrated content is taught just prior to a clinical experience.

Family First provides dental students with a unique opportunity to immediately apply what they have learned. The purpose of this ACE is to incorporate care of families, inter-professional interactions, risk assessment, and small group learning grounded in students' clinical experiences with the family they are caring for.

Geriatric Dentistry Program

Geriatric dental van

With the use of a 38-foot-long mobile van and mobile dental operatories, the Geriatric Dentistry Program - Lifelong Smiles' mission is to deliver comprehensive dental care to the elderly population in adult day care centers, assisted living facilities, and nursing home facilities.

Dr. Suparna A. Mahalaha and Dr. Lisa Blackmon engage students in didactic instruction in geriatric dentistry, with guest lecturers from various disciplines, during the third year of dental school. As part of students' fourth year curriculum, they have a clinical geriatric rotation in which they provide dental care, assess patients through interdisciplinary training, and discuss overall treatment plans with students of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and social work.

The program is supported by the McGregor Foundation and several other foundations, along with the CWRU School of Dental Medicine. For more information about the program or volunteering, please contact Dr. Suparna Mahalaha.