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Inside Dentistry

May 2013, Volume 9, Issue 5
Published by AEGIS Communications


Coming Together for Underserved Patients

Philadelphia’s medical and dental communities help those in need

Kate Hughes

When Sam Zarbiv first began studying at Drexel University College of Medicine, he knew very little about the field of dentistry. When his mentor, Allen Finkelstein, DDS, introduced him to literature regarding the oral-systemic link, Zarbiv was immediately enthralled. “The connection between oral health and overall health really clicked for me, and it was apparent that not only did I need to learn more about oral health, but I had to somehow connect medical and dental schools to allow other students to learn about this link as well,” he says.

Zarbiv’s first serious move to marry the dental and medical fields happened approximately 4 years ago, when he worked with D. Walter Cohen, DDS, to create the Student Oral Health Initiative at Drexel, connecting Drexel University College of Medicine with Temple University’s Kornberg School of Dentistry. The Student Oral Health Initiative is an officially recognized student initiative that promotes a comprehensive oral health education curriculum for medical, dental, and public health students in the underserved communities of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Initiative empowers Drexel students to address the unacceptable oral health disparities that exist in the United States.

It was through this program that Zarbiv began work with Healing Hurt People (HHP), a community-focused, hospital-based organization designed to reduce reinjury and retaliation among youth who are admitted to the emergency departments of Drexel, Hahnemann University Hospital, or St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children for intentional injuries such as gunshot, stab, or assault wounds. HHP’s focus is helping their injured clients reclaim their lives not only by ensuring that they receive proper medical care, but by teaching them get their lives back on track with career coaching, emotional counseling, and overall support. “The partnership of HHP and the Student Oral Health Initiative has helped Drexel bring essential services to those who truly need them,” explains Zarbiv.

It was through HHP that Zarbiv met Dionne Delgado, the program’s injury prevention coordinator, and Tony Thompson, a community intervention specialist. Immediately, Zarbiv, Delgado, and Thompson were able to recognize that although the program was well equipped to handle medical issues, it was not as adept at treating patients with severe dental problems. “Dental care for our clients just isn’t covered,” explains Delgado. “We were able to figure out avenues to pursue to get our patients medical help, but there was no pathway to do the same for their dental needs. Sam has helped us immensely by connecting us to clinics that can treat our client’s oral health needs.”

According to Thompson, these connections make a profound difference in the lives of HHP’s client base. He mentions that many of their clients have never seen a dentist in their lives, and when dental problems occur, they can be debilitating. “Ultimately, it will improve their overall quality of life, as well as their overall health,” he says.

Currently, Zarbiv is working with Delgado and Thompson to establish a fund for HHP clients with dental problems, as the dental coverage offered by Medicaid and similar programs only includes limited dental services for underprivileged patients. “The Student Oral Health Initiative has already helped a number of our clients get urgently needed dental care, but with an established fund, we would be able to help these patients get treatment on a more consistent and reliable basis,” says Delgado. The Student Oral Health Initiative is also working with HHP to help identify gaps in Medicaid’s coverage of dental care, so that more patients with dental issues may use this method to get the care that they need.

As HHP and the Student Oral Health Initiative continue to work together, the two organizations are discovering more ways that they can help their client base of underserved and at-risk young adults get access to dental care that they desperately need. “Access to dental care shouldn’t be about finances. It’s an integral part of overall health and healing process and helping our clients improve their lives,” says Thompson. “Together with Sam and the Student Oral Health Initiative at Drexel, I think we will continue to make a difference.”

For More Information:

Healing Hurt People please visit dentalaegis.com/go/id656.

The Student Oral Health Initiative please visit dentalaegis.com/go/id657.


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