Department Feature - The Division of Population Oral Health

September 24, 2018

In 2014, the Division of Population Oral Health saw its creation. This small office on the first floor of the college has made a big impact since the day it opened its doors. With Dr. Amy Martin and Dr. Joni Nelson at the helm they have focused on teaching students, health services and policy research, outreach, and increasing access to oral health care.

The Division of Population Oral Health, often referred to as the DPOH (dee-po), focuses their research and teachings on strengthening the dental safety net in the state of South Carolina. The dental safety net, as defined by Burton Edelstein, includes “the facilities, providers, and payment programs that support dental care for underserved populations including those individuals disadvantaged by a variety of social, economic, and health conditions”. 

With this in mind, the DPOH begins at the base level, by teaching students. They focus on providing experiential learning opportunities to students and work to equip them with the resources to practice in safety net communities after graduation. They also conduct health services in population health research, often funded by grants. 

One of these research projects is ‘Rural Oral Health Advancements through Interprofessional Practice’. The DPOH is fond of acronyms and this project is often referred to as ROADTRIP. This project focuses on students and training them to increase their understanding of the dental safety net. The creation of the Dental Safety Net Certificate Program in 2015 is a direct result of this. This program offers 4 courses, two of which are already mandatory for students. The courses help build the willingness of students to practice in the safety net after graduation as well as give an introduction to interprofessional competencies. Students can take these courses and join the dental safety net research club, led by Dr. Martin and Dr. Liete, to get a full understanding of the work that the DPOH is doing around the college, as well as the state. 

The most recent graduating class saw the first certificate completers since the beginning of the program. These include Dr Brandy Rollins Hair and Dr Chanel Moses. Dr. Hair is now working for BronxCare Health System as a General Practice Resident. This program is located in New York, New York, in a district that has a poverty rate of almost double the national average. They serve a high volume of patients with Medicaid insurance and patients who primarily speak languages other than English. Dr. Chanel Moses is serving in the military with a focus on population oral health and is actively pursuing dental public health. Dr. Nelson said that one of the ways she has seen her work at the DPOH make a difference is by seeing the difference that students, like Dr. Rollins Hair and Dr. Moses, are making in their postgraduate practice.

The DPOH is in the middle of some other projects. One is the ‘NC-SC Oral Health Research Agenda. This is a partnership with East Carolina University, the University of South Carolina, the University of North Carolina, and the Medical University of South Carolina. All universities are working to identify opportunities to work together and improve oral health. Another is the ‘School-Based Oral Health Program Expansion in NC & SC’. This program is a partnership with Duke and worked to identify weaknesses and strengths in school oral health programs and education while working to move children in these schools from treatment to prevention. 

The DPOH just wrapped up a research project called ‘Rural Oral Health Advancements in Delivery Systems’, called ROADS. The analysis part of this project is ongoing and it worked with a dental delivery system. The DPOH partnered with rural health clinics to help with referral management, identifying areas of improvements, oral health integration competencies (such as including fluoride varnish and oral screenings), and relating oral health back to diabetes management. The ongoing project ‘McLeod Oral Health Leadership Referral Program’ also works to incorporate oral health care as a diabetes management program. The McLeod Health Center and MUSC have a long standing partnership and the teachings are incorporated into their residency program. 

Dr. Amy Martin recently received a grant for a project called ‘Prioritizing Oral Health Workforce & Education in the Rural Pee Dee’, also known as POWER Pee Dee. The goal of this project is to strengthen the dental safety net in the most underserved region of South Carolina. This will be achieved through MUSC telehealth, the Division of Oral Health in the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control, and the DentaQuest Institute. Many people around the college and state are excited to see what this project will accomplish. For an overview of current grants and projects for the DPOH, please see their website

This Division of Population Oral Health continues to have a great impact on the state of South Carolina. The grant dollars that rural dental clinics receive from the various grants that the DPOH has been awarded give the clinicians freedom to learn and understand new competencies and help with their practice management. 

When asked what her favorite part of her job is, Dr Nelson emphasized the collaboration that occurs in their office. She said that they “get to serve, truly actually serve the communities that we’re trying to improve their access to oral health, and then we actually get to see it work”.