The National Dental Association Foundation (NDAF) and the Colgate-Palmolive Company have created the Audacity to Dream scholarship program for African-Americans pursuing careers in dentistry as part of their commitment to addressing racial disparities in oral health.
Students currently enrolled in dental school and demonstrating success in areas such as leadership, community service, and research will be eligible for grants from $5,000 to $20,000. Applications and award criteria are available online. Grants will be presented at the NDAF’s annual convention in June 2021.
Dental care is one of the largest unmet health needs in the United States, the NDAF said. African-American children between the ages of 2 and 8 are about twice as likely as whites to have untreated tooth decay, the NDAF said.
Also, African-American working-age adults are almost twice as likely to have untreated decay as their white counterparts, the NDAF added. Communities that lack access to oral health often have higher rates of periodontal disease as well as diabetes and cardiovascular disease as well, the organization said.
A shortage of African-American dentists is one of several challenges African-Americans face in accessing oral healthcare, the NDAF said. While African-Americans make up about 13% of the US population, they account for only 3.8% of dental professionals. Many African-Americans would prefer to see an African-American dentist, the NDAF said.
A survey conducted for National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that approximately one-third of African-Americans have experienced discrimination seeking medical care.
In addition, the NDAF said, roughly a quarter of those polled indicated that they have been avoiding care for themselves or a family member out of concern they would encounter racial discrimination.
Colgate and NDAF have been partners to improve the oral health of African-American communities for 30 years, they said. Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures mobile dental vans are often staffed by NDAF dental volunteers.
In a normal year, the vans visit more than a thousand cities and towns each year and reach more than 9 million children with free dental screenings, oral health education, and treatment referrals.
The NDAF-Health Now initiative, which sends teams of dental professionals, physicians, optometrists, and nurses into underserved communities to provide dental services as well as medical and vision screenings receives Colgate support.
Together, the NDA and Colgate also have contributed more than $4.2 million to fund research on the impact of oral health diseases on people of African descent.
“To truly establish oral health equity, African-Americans need greater access to care, more affordable care, increased oral health awareness, and dentists who are passionate about improving the quality of life in communities of color,” said NDAF president Dr. Bertram J. Hughes.
“Filling the pipeline with the next generation of African-American dental professionals helps move us forward on all fronts,” Hughes said.
“Colgate is determined to create a zero-cavity future for all,” said Dr. Gillian Barclay, Colgate’s vice president of global public health.
“We know that oral health can affect the lives of African-American children and their families in devastating ways—their ability to go to school, to work, and to thrive,” Barclay said. “That’s why Colgate is vested in supporting African-American dental students, because we know that they will make a meaningful difference in our communities and our world.”