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Penn’s School of Dental Medicine expanded its presence in community health centers to provide dental service to underserved and elderly populations, who will be served by third- and fourth-year dental students.

Credit: Maria Murad

Penn’s School of Dental Medicine has recently expanded its presence in community health centers to provide dental service to underserved and elderly populations.

Penn Dental Medicine offers dental care to four community sites and the PennSmiles Mobile Dental Care Center in order to expand dental access and reach community members, Penn Today reported. Patients at the community sites are served by third- and fourth-year dental students, who work under the supervision of faculty members.

Division Chief of Community Oral Health Joan Gluch emphasized the interconnected nature of health and dental disparities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Under-resourced communities and marginalized communities often lack access to dental care,” Gluch told Penn Today. “It’s something that Penn Dental Medicine takes very seriously in looking at health equity and increasing access.”

Penn Dental Medicine partnered with Mercy LIFE, a health care center for seniors, and Puentes de Salud, a nonprofit serving the city’s Latinx immigrant population. The school also provides dental care at the health care center Spectrum and the Bernett L. Johnson Sayre Health Center. The school provides 21 dental chairs across all four community sites.

William Manolarakis, a fourth-year dental student who worked at Spectrum last summer, told Penn Today the community sites allow for more comprehensive dental care.

“Now, not only can we conduct basic checkups and cleanings, but we can also provide further treatment for our patients through procedures such as fillings, extractions, and dentures,” Manolarakis told Penn Today.

The expansion into community health centers is part of the school’s effort to promote health equity by providing students hands-on experience in the local community. In each of their four years at the Dental School, students must complete at least one “service learning” course, such as providing dental screening and health education to nearby clinics and homeless shelters.

“It is critically important to provide our patients with the opportunity to get dental care in their own neighborhoods and give dental students clinical experience in interdisciplinary, patient-centered environments that promote diversity and inclusion,” Gluch told Penn Today.