Assistant Surgeon General Visits UTHSC College of Dentistry

Dentistry Today
Photo by Allen Gillespie/UTHSC


Photo by Allen Gillespie/UTHSC

Rear Admiral Timothy Ricks, DMD, MPH, chief dental officer of the US Public Health Service and Assistant Surgeon General of the United States, urged students at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) College of Dentistry to focus on oral health as integral to overall health across the lifespan during his visit there on October 7. 

“Part of my job is to impress on people the importance of oral health,” said Ricks, who is the spokesperson on oral health for US Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams, MD. “It’s the idea of dental students thinking beyond the mouth and to the role oral health plays in general health.”

Speaking to third-year and fourth-year dental students and College of Dentistry faculty, Ricks previewed the 2020 Surgeon General’s Report, which is expected to be released next fall and is only the second in history to focus on oral health.

While a previous call to action from the 2000 Surgeon General’s Report set the goals of promoting oral health, improving quality of life, and eliminating health disparities, and progress has been made toward those goals, more is needed, Ricks said

The 2020 report will focus on the social determinants of health as key in eliminating disparities in oral healthcare across the country. It also will address the oral health needs of the aging population, the role of oral healthcare providers in stemming the opioid crisis, the demands of the changing dental workforce, and expanding access to oral healthcare in rural areas.

“We’re not keeping up with the demand for dentists and dentists are going to urban areas,” where practices are more lucrative, Ricks said. Reducing dental student debt could make rural practice more attractive, he said, noting various federal loan repayment programs and scholarships available to students.

Additionally, Ricks encouraged the students to think of themselves as part of one integrated healthcare team, adding that oral health providers should take responsibility for their patients’ general health. For example, he said, dentists should talk to their patients about issues ranging from nutrition to the importance of vaccination.

College of Dentistry dean James C. Ragain Jr, DDS, MS, PhD, said the visit was an honor and that Ricks’ message fits perfectly with the school’s expanded view of oral healthcare and its increased attention to reaching the underserved across Tennessee.

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