Inside Dentistry
May 2006
Volume 2, Issue 4

Howard University College of Dentistry

Washington, DC

Ryle A. Bell, DDS, MS, Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs
Cecile E. Skinner, DDS, PhD, Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs
Earl M. Kudlick, DDS, MSD, Associate Dean for Advanced Education and Research

Question No. 1

Inside Dentistry (ID): The demographics of schools overall are changing in terms of faculty composition and the student population. What changes have you seen at your dental school in particular?

Dr. Ryle Bell (RB): At the Howard University College of Dentistry, as well as in the entire university, there is an increase in the number of women students and faculty in conjunction with a marked decrease in the number of African American men. Although the increase in the female population is a good thing, the drastic depletion of African American men is critical for several reasons. Young black men need role models to motivate them and educate them to the possibilities of their accomplishments. The success of the Hank Aarons and Michael Jordans of this world have made it clear to young men that a career in professional sports will take them places where they could otherwise not go and black male dental professionals are needed to disseminate the same message.

With decreasing numbers of male professionals, it becomes increasingly difficult to convince young black men that a future which includes college and a professional life is attainable. In addition, the lack of professional men in the black community contributes to social dislocation as black women professionals find a dearth of educated mates thus minimizing the effect that black professional fathers have on the aspirations and goals of their children.

Question No. 2

ID: How has your dental school responded to these changes and what have the reactions been from the students, faculty, and administrators?

Cecile Skinner (CS): The increase of female students has not hurt the College of Dentistry in any way or the profession in general. Despite the lack of African American men in the general professional population, there is still enough diversity among the student body to provide a fascinating atmosphere for learning. A very obvious response is the increase of women’s organizations, which has made the school more visible in the dental world. Most of the student leaders and many of the high achievers are women. Some of the male students and student leaders have commented on the increase of these organizations and feel there is no longer an apparent need as the scale has tipped and women no longer have to strive for a place and/or recognition in the profession.

Because many of our faculty and administrators are parents, they recognize and accept this trend. The fate of our students (our/their children) are in our hands and we must take a stronger stand toward steering young people through the pipeline, exposing them early to the dental profession or any profession and away from the easy way up and out.

Question No. 3

ID: There are many challenges and opportunities when it comes to healthcare. What do you see as the most urgent need and how does your dental school differentiate itself in efforts to respond to those challenges and opportunities?

RB: One of the greatest challenges to healthcare is access, along with the dissemination of accurate information concerning tooth neglect, the effect of tooth loss on overall health, and the burgeoning information about its systemic effects. There are still far too many people who believe that tooth loss is a normal evolution in human existence. Dentistry has still not done a good job of informing and convincing people that tooth loss is not normal and that it can be prevented. Most individuals would react viscerally to the total loss of finger and toe nails but seem to think that losing all of their teeth is acceptable. The loss of scalp hair is far more often addressed in the public milieu and the media than the loss of teeth and, as far as we know, its effects are far less damaging to overall health. As we learn more and more about the relationship between oral health and systemic health we need to keep informing our patients and the public of the connection that the mouth has to the rest of the body and to elevate the discussion of the role that a healthy mouth plays in the overall health of the body. We have targeted the Washington, DC community in terms of student and faculty involvement and are constantly educating, treating, and exposing them to advances in dental care in an effort to improve their informational base. Access is always an issue and the College has involved itself with several community organizations in an effort to broaden access to dental healthcare for those who are disadvantaged.

Question No. 4

ID: Exciting and innovative research initiatives are taking place at dental schools nationwide. What are the most significant areas of research taking place at your dental school?

Earl M. Kudlick (EK): The Howard University College of Dentistry is in the process of developing its research infrastructure. It is involved in both clinical and basic science head and neck cancer research, developing a database of demographics on African American and Hispanic patients, examining the problems of access to care issues for these patients, documenting (statistically) the oral health problems of African Americans and Hispanics, and researching the relationship of oral health to systemic health. The research committee at Howard University College of Dentistry is composed of dental faculty (several with master’s degrees) who are interested in clinical research and 3 PhD researchers (2 trained in molecular genetics and 1 DDS/PhD trained in epidemiology) who work independently and in collaboration with each other. Research opportunities have opened up and developed into collaborations with other schools and colleges within as well as outside the University. These collaborations have presented several translational dental research endeavors, which include the use of saliva to discover markers for various systemic diseases and research training opportunities for faculty and students. Students are also given opportunities to be mentored in our summer research programs and throughout the nation.

Question No. 5

ID: What endeavors have been most successful for you in terms of securing funding for this type of research or other types of translation research?

EK: The Howard University College of Dentistry received a P20 grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute, and has collaborated with the Howard University Cancer Center and Johns Hopkins University Cancer Center in exploring innovative molecular genetic research approaches toward head and neck cancer. The goal of this project is to increase the number of the dental faculty and students in cancer research and to enhance the cancer research capacity of the Howard University College of Dentistry through a highly collaborative effort the between the Howard University College of Dentistry, the Howard University Cancer Center, and Johns Hopkins University.

The Howard University College of Dentistry has partnered with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in a K12 grant, with the project titled, “Multidisciplinary Clinical Research Career Development” under the direction of Neil Powe, MD, MPH, MBA, Director, Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research. The goal of this endeavor is to present opportunities for dental students and faculty to pursue training in dental clinical research and commit to careers in dental research.

Question No. 6

ID: Is there anything else you would like readers to know about your dental school or that you would like to comment on in general?

RB: The Howard University College of Dentistry is a unique institution which prepares its graduates to serve the disenfranchised and underserved areas as well as the global community. During their training, all of the students are exposed to those who have very little in the wayof financial resources and educational opportunities. These students come to learn that not all of these individuals are in that situation because of choice or ineptitude and it makes a tremendous difference when they begin to relate to them as real people with real problems.

This training changes the way students from different backgrounds think of the poor and affects the way that they practice dentistry. It is the mark of the Howard graduate to be involved in his/her community and to give back in some way to those who are less fortunate than they are. Aside from the teaching of all aspects of the dental profession, the inculcation of the desire to help those who are less fortunate is the hallmark of the Howard professional.

The Howard University College of Dentistry in Washington, DC.
Ryle A. Bell, DDS, MS
Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs
Cecile E. Skinner, DDS, PhD
Associate Dean for
Academic and Student Affairs
Earl M. Kudlick, DDS, MSD
Associate Dean for
Advanced Education and Research

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