January 2008, Volume 4, Issue 1
Published by AEGIS Communications
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey—New Jersey Dental School
Newark, New Jersey
Cecile A. Feldman, DMD, MBA
QUESTION NO. 1
Inside Dentistry (ID): Exciting and innovative research initiatives are taking place at dental schools nationwide. What is the most significant area of research at your school?
Cecile A. Feldman (CF): One of the major targets of research, for both New Jersey Dental School (NJDS) and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), is health disparities among the populations in the United States. In fact, Daniel H. Fine, DMD, professor and chair of the oral biology department, and director of UMDNJ’s Center for Oral Infectious Diseases, has spent 25 years studying the organism Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans (Aa). His studies have made it apparent that the presence of Aa or specific microbial complexes could predict the initiation and progression of localized aggressive periodontitis (LAP). A disease that primarily affects African-American and Hispanic children, LAP can lead to premature loss of front teeth and molars, affecting the children’s appearance, self-esteem, nutrition, and ability to succeed in life.
The Center’s newest area of research is on microbial markers for periodontal disease in children. In 2006, more than 1,000 Newark schoolchildren from ages 10 to 16 were examined for both caries and periodontal disease. All of the children were screened for the presence of Aa. The current phase of the study involves following those students who exhibited the presence of the Aa bacteria. These students will be recalled every 6 months for 3 years. The unique feature of this research study is that when disease is detected, treatment at no cost is offered to the children. This study is one of the first, and represents the most extensive periodontal screening and treatment of its kind. NJDS is taking dental research from the bench to the patient.
QUESTION NO. 2
ID: What endeavors have been most successful for you in terms of securing funding for this type of research or other types of translational research?
CF: This kind of research takes enormous funding. In addition to grants from the National Institutes for Health and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, extra funding for the screenings was received from foundations such as Delta Dental of New Jersey (Parsippany, NJ) and dental manufacturing corporations. The van used for screenings was donated by Colgate-Palmolive (New York, NY).
QUESTION NO. 3
ID: The demographics of dental schools overall—in terms of faculty composition and the student population—are changing. What changes have you seen at your school in particular?
CF: NJDS ranks high in its ability to attract and graduate outstanding minority professionals. In a recent report by Diverse®: Issues in Higher Education, NJDS was in the top seven producers of minority dentists among non-historically black colleges and universities, and the 10th producer of Hispanic graduates earning their first professional degrees in dentistry. Our school is truly multicultural, and not only have we seen increases in enrollment of African-American and Hispanic students, but also of students from the Middle East, India, and many parts of Asia.
With respect to diversity among our faculty, this has been a hallmark of UMDNJ-NJDS from its formation. To continue the process of maintaining the diverse nature of our faculty, we have hired young minority junior faculty and mentor them for leadership roles within the ranks of those who have preceded them.
QUESTION NO. 4
ID: How has your school responded to these changes, and what have the reactions been from students, faculty, and administrators?
CF: NJDS’ faculty and administration have continuously worked to achieve a student body that reflects the state’s demographics by instituting several pipeline programs to attract students from underrepresented populations. Since May 2002, our Gateway Program has enrolled 30 qualified applicants twice yearly. Close to 60% of the program participants have been accepted to NJDS, and Gateway participants have comprised approximately one fourth of the last three incoming classes. NJDS’ Decision for Dentistry program for high school students has become a close rival to Gateway. Students participate in a three-visit program that includes introductory lessons on dentistry, a tour of the facilities, and faculty-led hands-on exercises, as well as information on requirements for entry into dental school, counseling, and information about student financing. In 2006, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant helped us to invite college freshmen and sophomores from economic and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds to attend a 6-week summer enrichment program that included academic enrichment in the basic sciences, learning-skills seminars, clinical exposure, and career development seminars.
QUESTION NO. 5
ID: There are many challenges and opportunities in oral healthcare. What do you see as the most urgent need, and how does your school differentiate itself in efforts to respond to those challenges and opportunities?
CF: Through the establishment of a statewide network of dental facilities in 1989, NJDS has enhanced access to oral healthcare services for low-income minorities; migrant workers and their families; mentally, physically, and emotionally challenged indigent elders; and persons with HIV/AIDS. During the past 16 years, the statewide network has provided more than 375,000 high-quality patient visits. In addition, the sites have provided a setting uniquely suited to an educational experience for nearly 190 graduate and postgraduate students. Students who work at our extramural sites include 4th-year predoctoral students participating in our innovative Community Oriented Dental Education Program (CODE), where they learn the skills of dentistry in an environment that resembles a private practice, including an active patient body. NJDS is involved in current discussions about forming partnerships with federally qualified health centers in our state to provide oral healthcare for the working poor and Medicaid patients in their neighborhoods.
QUESTION NO. 6
ID: Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know about your school, or that you would like to comment on in general?
CF: At NJDS, it is important for us to remember that dentistry is not just about teeth. It is about being a physician, identifying and treating disease; it is about being a surgeon, removing diseased tissue and restoring an individual back to health; it is about being a psychologist, working with people to improve their self-esteem and expanding their opportunities in life; and it is about being a sociologist, understanding the social and cultural role of dentistry and oral health. A New Jersey Dental School Doctor of Dental Medicine degree is one that only a limited few have earned. It symbolizes academic excellence, compassion and caring, and honesty and integrity. For anyone walking into an dental office with a New Jersey Dental School Doctor of Dental Medicine degree on the wall, they should have no doubt that the individual named is a dentist in whom they can have the fullest confidence.
Cecile A. Feldman, DMD, MBA
New Jersey Dental School
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
Newark, New Jersey