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July 8, 2003

Youth get opportunity to ‘practice dentistry’ at UW Dental Camp

This summer, the University of Washington School of Dentistry will again team up with the Washington Dental Service Foundation (WDSF) to conduct dental camps for junior high school students from across the state. There will be 10 sessions to introduce youth to dentistry between June 2003 and March 2004, an increase over the three camps held last summer in the first year of the program.

“The enthusiasm that was generated by the 78 junior high school-aged students from across Washington state at last year’s camps was instrumental in planning the expansion of this year’s program,” said Dr. Douglass Jackson, the principal coordinator.

“The UW State GEAR UP Project actively seeks to develop partnerships with academic units around the University which will benefit our students. Clearly, the Dental Camp is just such a partnership,” said Thomas J. Calhoun Jr., executive director of the University of Washington State GEAR UP Project. “As a result of the remarkable success of the Dental Camp, GEAR UP is looking forward to strengthening and enhancing continued opportunities with the UW School of Dentistry.

The first sessions on June 24, July 8 and July 15 will provide 75 junior high school students an opportunity to perform hands-on activities used in the practice of dentistry. Students for these sessions come from University of Washington State GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness & Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) Project, a program of the UW College of Arts and Sciences that is funded by the U.S. Department of Education to encourage students from underserved areas and/or low-income communities across Washington to plan for and succeed in higher education. Students participate in the Dental Camp as part of a one-week stay in the annual GEAR UP summer institutes that give the youths insights into the life of, and possibilities for, an undergraduate college student.

“With the advancement of outreach and educational programs such as the Dental Camp, the UW School of Dentistry and Washington Dental Service Foundation hope to ultimately expand the diversity of dental professions in Washington and reduce the magnitude of oral health disparities,” Jackson said. “Programs like Dental Camp help identify the region’s next generation of dental professionals and provide interested students with mentoring to support their aspirations in dental careers.”

The camp will encourage students to learn more about dental careers, and steps they can take to prepare for dental careers. In addition, students will learn about the importance of good oral health. Under the supervision of mentoring dentists and UW dental students, campers will work with simulator’s teeth and make impressions and models.

This camp was developed in response to work by Washington Dental Service Foundation’s Educational Futures Task Force that identified the need to diversify dental professionals. The WDSF Board committed to address this issue by offering scholarships and supporting pipeline programs to promote dental professions. In 1998, African Americans and Hispanics comprised nearly 24 percent of the U.S. population but represented less than 10 percent of dentists nationally.

“A diverse health-care workforce can improve the health status of racial and ethnic minorities. Providers sharing a similar cultural background with patients can improve quality, comfort and accessibility to care,” Jackson said.

The Dental Camp’s hands-on activities are held in the School of Dentistry’s Simulation Laboratory. The lab is state-of-the-art, remodeled in 1997, and is used by faculty to teach courses to pre-doctoral students and to conduct continuing dental education programs for practicing dentists. Each of the 56 workstations in the lab is equipped with a dental patient simulator, dental tools and equipment, and a monitor on which students can view the instructor and video.

UW School of Dentistry students and faculty will be among the volunteer mentors for Dental Camp. Other mentors include members of the UW Oral Health Collaborative and dental hygiene students. These volunteers will serve as lab supervisors and educators, conducting discussions about dental careers and oral health science. Mentors will follow up with the campers once they return home, to encourage students to purse a career in oral health professions.

Jackson is an associate professor in the Department of Oral Medicine and the director of educational partnerships at the School of Dentistry. Besides his research interests in the neurobiology of acute pain, Jackson also has an interest in oral health disparity research.