Oral health is vital for a person’s overall health. That’s why it’s so alarming that a 2016 report from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services found that of the 93 counties in Nebraska, 57 percent are designated as general dentist shortage areas. What’s more, 85 percent are designated as shortage areas for pediatric dentistry. The College of Dentistry is addressing these concerns head-on.
State of Nebraska Rural Oral Health Contract
In 2016, the college was awarded a $4 million, 10-year contract from the State of Nebraska Oral Health Training and Services Fund to help increase the number of dental graduates practicing in rural Nebraska, to increase oral health services for citizens across the state and to expand the use of telehealth to deliver dental services.
Providing Rural Nebraska's Dental Workforce
In 2015, the College of Dentistry was nationally recognized in the Journal of the American Dental Association as the No. 1 school among all U.S. dental schools in the percentage of graduates returning to rural communities to practice (33 percent). In addition, data shows that 67 percent of Nebraska dentists are UNMC graduates and 83 percent of rural dentists are UNMC graduates.
Providing Rural Nebraska's Dental Hygiene Workforce
Dental hygienists are an integral part of the dental team — that’s why the college established the West Division Dental Hygiene program in Gering/Scottsbluff in 2002. Since its inception, the program has provided a top-notch educational program for students in western Nebraska with the ultimate goal of providing a dental hygiene workforce for the western part of the state. It has resulted in increased, much-needed access to dental care, and a majority of graduates have remained in rural communities to practice dental hygiene.
Rural Health Opportunities Program (RHOP)
Important partnerships with some of Nebraska’s state colleges have resulted in pipeline programs such as UNMC’s Rural Health Opportunities Program (RHOP), a cooperative program between UNMC and Chadron State College and Wayne State College, and the Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP), a cooperative program between UNMC and the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
In these programs, we recruit and educate dental and dental hygiene students from rural Nebraska with the goal that they return to rural areas to practice dentistry. Students in these programs receive full tuition scholarships at their undergraduate schools and upon successfully completing and maintaining academic standards, they are admitted to the UNMC College of Dentistry.
Educating Students about Rural Dental Health
Once at the College of Dentistry, students are afforded countless opportunities to learn more about rural dental health through the school’s curriculum, including extramural experiences and outreach programs. All dental students spend several weeks toward the end of their educational program in extramural rotations treating patients alongside our volunteer faculty in counties across Nebraska.
College of Dentistry's Rural Nebraska Community Outreach Programs
- Sealant Program
Dental hygiene students provide sealants, fluoride treatments and education to more than 3,000 Nebraska schoolchildren each year, and to many nursing home residents in rural communities like Milford and Seward. Learn more.
- Western Nebraska Children's Dental Day
Each year, about 200 underserved children in western Nebraska receive much-needed dental services. The college transports students, faculty, staff and portable equipment to sites in Sidney, Alliance, Chadron and Gordon. The Panhandle District Health Department is a major contributor to this program and helps coordinate many of the activities ranging from identifying the children to arranging logistics. Learn more.
- Western Nebraska SHARING Clinics
An annual extraction clinic is held in conjunction with the Third City Clinic in Grand Island. About 20 dental students and faculty see about 70 patients and extract about 200 teeth. Additionally, the college works with a district health department in northeastern Nebraska to identify a minority population with major dental needs. This has resulted in a special triage and referral day, providing services to about 40 patients. Learn more.
Continued efforts to expand our services also include the important work of UNMC’s Rural Health 2030 Task Force, which continues the conversation about rural health care education and workforce preparation.
Through both the college’s existing and new efforts, we are optimistic about the future of rural health care and we look forward to creating new partnerships throughout our state to further strengthen rural oral health.