Bulletin of Dental Education

University of Maryland Dental Hygiene Students Engage in Leadership and Reflection on Oral Health Inequities in the U.S.

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UMSOD senior dental hygiene students and
faculty participated last fall in round-table discussions with
Mary Otto, author of Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality,
and the Struggle for Oral Health in America, and Beth Lowe,
education specialist at the NMCOHRC.

Dental hygiene students practiced leadership skills and techniques for engaging classmates last fall during weekly book club discussions about oral health inequities in the United States as part of their course work at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD).

The course, Community Oral Health, taught by Sheryl Syme, RDH, M.S., Director of the UMSOD Dental Hygiene Program, focuses on principles of community health. Each week, class participants read chapters from veteran health journalist Mary Otto’s 2017 book, Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America. Their goal was to catalyze lively class discussions by summarizing the assigned content and synthesizing what they learned from it—and its relevance to their community service-learning experiences.

Calling the in-class conversations “eye-opening,” student Jennie Hager says, “the chance to reflect on this book, how it relates to the work I plan to do, and the work I am already doing through service-learning opportunities, has been so beneficial.”

Ms. Hager, who is a senior in the dental hygiene program, added that the discussions about the book challenged “us to want to make our own mark on the dental hygiene profession and the betterment of public health.”

At UMSOD, dental hygiene students complete a two-credit course called Community Service-learning I (that includes 90 service-learning hours) and a three-credit course called Community Oral Health in fall of their senior years. They also complete a one-credit Community Service-learning II course in their final spring semester (which includes an additional 45 service-learning hours). Class discussions lead to powerful insights about designing health promotional programs for the students, who were studying the principles of community oral health while also working with communities in need of oral health care. Throughout the semester, the students reported that they looked forward to the weekly book club meetings.

A high point of the class came when two esteemed guests joined the student-led discussions during the final class session—Ms. Otto, author of the book, and Beth Lowe, RDH, M.P.H., education specialist at the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center of the National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness, which is a collaborative effort with the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

In addition to signing books, Ms. Otto offered advice and encouragement to the emerging dental hygiene professionals.

Courtesy of Holly Selby, Lead Marketing and Media Specialist, University of Maryland School of Dentistry

Published on Jan. 8, 2020

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