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 through education, research, and service. We provide high quality oral health education by exposing dental students to the needs of underserved children/adults and the communities in which they live through our Sealant and Geriatric programs. The Department is strong on community-based oral health disparities research in children and adults with funding from NIH, PCORI, and Foundations. Several innovative clinical trials are ongoing testing the effectiveness of non-surgical treatments in older adults, and multi-level interventions in primary care settings for children and adults. The Department’s service to the community includes outreach activities such as oral health education, dental exams, preventive treatments, and a geriatric dental van program. The Department also maintains a dental public health residency 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 area adult day care centers.
Students are engaged through didactic instruction in topics related to geriatric dentistry, during the third year of dental school. As part of students' fourth year curriculum, they have a clinical geriatric rotation in which they provide comprehensive dental care, assess patients through interdisciplinary training, and attend patient rounds with a geriatrician.
The program is/was supported by The First Energy Foundation, The McGregor Foundation and several other foundations, along with the CWRU School of Dental Medicine. For more information about the program, please contact Dr. Suparna A. Mahalaha.