NYU Dentistry Launches Oral Health Think Tank

Dentistry Today


The New York University College of Dentistry has launched the NYU Dentistry Center for Oral Health Policy and Management, an interdepartmental and interdisciplinary think tank focused on oral health policy and management in the 21st century.

The creation of the center recognizes that the current oral health policy and management environment in the United States requires a holistic approach that has been lacking, said Charles N. Bertolami, Herman Robert Fox Dean of NYU Dentistry.

“While tremendous strides have been made in improving the oral health status of Americans through scientific breakthroughs, many are left without access to basic dental care,” said Bertolami. “Dental benefits remain separated from other healthcare coverage and out of reach for many individuals and families.”

Also, the rigorous curriculum for dental students focuses predominantly on basic science and clinical care, but most learn little about the complexity of the dental and general healthcare systems of which they will soon be a part, NYU Dental said. The center aims to change this through new programming and academic offerings on oral health policy and leadership.

“The future of dental care, dental education, and oral health research is uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, requiring the development and implementation of a national agenda for oral health policy and management and making the need for adaptive, character-based leaders throughout the dental profession greater than ever before,” said Bertolami.

“It is within this context that the NYU Dentistry Center for Oral Health Policy and Management has been created and within which it will initiate its work,” said Bertolami.

The center will be led by Richard Valachovic, a visiting scholar at NYU Dentistry and president emeritus of the American Dental Education Association. He has been named founding director of the center.

Michael P. O’Connor, executive vice dean at NYU Dentistry, has been named founding co-director of the center. Valachovic and O’Connor both have extensive expertise and experience in health policy and management, NYU Dentistry said. Gabriela Gonzalez will provide administrative support.

The center will develop and promote a national agenda for oral health policy and management that recognizes the fundamental relationship between oral and overall health and the responsibilities that the dental professions have for the overall well-being of the public, NYU Dentistry said.

To create and further this agenda, the center will leverage NYU Dentistry’s existing resources and will engage with university, local, national, and international partners to create synergies related to oral health policy and management.

“NYU Dentistry is uniquely well positioned to undertake these initiatives. The college enjoys a global reputation as a leader in dental education and research and as an innovator in dental public health,” said Valachovic.

“Moreover, with more than 300,000 patient visits annually by the most multiethnic, multicultural patient population in the nation, the center will provide a framework for the creation of a Health Services Research Database using the resources in the college’s clinical information systems,” he said.

Developing the Health Services Research Database, ensuring the confidentiality of patient health information, from NYU Dentistry’s large and diverse population of patients would provide an abundant resource for research, the school said.

The database would allow researchers to explore and attract funding for projects related to the social determinants of health, general health and dental diagnoses, treatment outcomes, and reimbursement and financing of dental care. Evidence generated by the center would inform local and national efforts to develop policy recommendations to improve access to oral healthcare.

NYU Dentistry has several existing initiatives that align with critical issues related to oral health policy and management and, specifically, access to care, the school said.

The NYU Dentistry Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities is a regional center for the comprehensive treatment of adults and children with a wide spectrum of disabilities. Also, the NYU Dentistry Veterans Oral Health Initiative offers comprehensive care at no out-of-pocket cost to military veterans.

Both of these populations have historically faced barriers to receiving affordable dental care, and generating research could point to solutions for improving their access to care, the school said.

Additionally, NYU Dentistry’s Department of Epidemiology & Health Promotion houses the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Quality Improvement and Evidence-Based Dentistry, which is one of only 10 Collaborating Centers on oral health in the world and the only one in the Americas. The global ties created as a result of this collaboration allow for policy discussions with an international audience, including improving and sustaining access to care worldwide, the school said.

Another priority for the center will be to develop the next generation of policy-oriented leaders for the dental and related healthcare professions through creating new leadership programming and courses, the school said.

“The major reason given by dental school deans and independent search firms for not filling vacancies for faculty and dental leadership positions is a lack of qualified candidates,” said O’Connor.

“The center will strive to develop adaptive leaders who are prepared to perform in uncertain environments in the future using a differentiating character-based model of leadership, one that develops leadership habits and attitudes that aim for human flourishing in organizations, communities, and society,” O’Connor said.

To extend its reach beyond NYU Dentistry, the center will stimulate public dialogue about oral health policy and management issues by convening seminars and symposia on key issues, the school said.

These events will build off the successful model created for the October 2020 AHEAD (Achieving Health Equity for All with Disabilities) Symposium, a virtual event that attracted speakers and attendees from around the world to discuss improving oral health policy for people with disabilities

The first NYU Dentistry Center for Oral Health Policy and Management seminar is planned for May 2021 and will focus on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on dentistry and dental education, as well as the path forward.

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