New NYU Dentistry Center Focusing on Oral Health Policy, Management

January 29, 2021

Center plans to cultivate new leaders, foster dialogue, and use research to develop oral health policy agenda; improve access to care.

With goals that include improving access to care and dental benefits, New York University College of Dentistry (NYU Dentistry) has created the NYU Dentistry Center for Oral Health Policy and Management, an interdepartmental and interdisciplinary think tank that focuses on oral health policy and management in the 21st century.

The creation of the center recognizes that the current oral health policy and management environment in the U.S. requires a holistic approach—an approach that has been lacking, according to Charles N. Bertolami, Herman Robert Fox Dean of NYU Dentistry.

While great strides have been made in improving the oral health status of Americans through scientific breakthroughs, many are still left without access to basic dental care, says Bertolami, who adds that dental benefits remain separated from other healthcare coverage and out of reach for many individuals and families.

In addition, the rigorous curriculum for dental students focuses predominantly on basic science and clinical care, but most learn little about the complexity of the dental and general healthcare systems of which they will soon be a part. The center aims to change this through new programming and academic offerings on oral health policy and leadership.

Organizers of the new center state that the future of dental care, dental education, and oral health research is uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, thus requiring the development and implementation of a national agenda for oral health policy and management and making the need for adaptive, character-based leaders throughout the dental profession greater than ever before.

The NYU Dentistry Center for Oral Health Policy and Management will be led by Richard Valachovic, a visiting scholar at NYU Dentistry and president emeritus of the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), who has been named founding director of the center, and Michael P. O’Connor, executive vice dean at NYU Dentistry, who has been named founding co-director of the center. Both Valachovic and O’Connor have extensive expertise and experience in areas of health policy and management. Gabriela Gonzalez will provide administrative support for the center.

Setting an Evidence-Based Agenda for Oral Health Policy
A key focus of the center is to develop and promote a national agenda for oral health policy and management that recognizes the fundamental relationship between oral health and overall health and the responsibilities that the dental professions have for the overall well-being of the public. To create and further this agenda, the center will leverage NYU Dentistry’s existing resources and will engage with university, local, national, and international partners to create synergies related to oral health policy and management.

Developing the Health Services Research Database—ensuring the confidentiality of patient health information—from NYU Dentistry’s large and diverse population of patients would provide an abundant resource for research. It would allow researchers to explore and attract funding for projects related to social determinants of health, general health and dental diagnoses, treatment outcomes, and reimbursement and financing of dental care. Evidence generated by the center would inform local and national efforts to develop policy recommendations to improve access to oral health care.

NYU Dentistry has several existing initiatives that align with critical issues related to oral health policy and management, and, specifically, access to care. These include the NYU Dentistry Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities, a regional center for the comprehensive treatment of adults and children with a wide spectrum of disabilities, and the NYU Dentistry Veterans Oral Health Initiative, which offers comprehensive care at no out-of-pocket cost to military veterans. Both of these populations have historically faced barriers to receiving affordable dental care, and generating research could point to solutions for improving their access to care.

Finally, NYU Dentistry’s Department of Epidemiology & Health Promotion houses the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center for Quality Improvement and Evidence-Based Dentistry, one of only 10 Collaborating Centers on oral health in the world and the only one in the Americas. The global ties created as a result of this collaboration allow for policy discussions with an international audience, including improving and sustaining access to care worldwide.

Developing Adaptive Leaders for the Future
Another priority for the center will be to develop the next generation of policy-oriented leaders for the dental and related healthcare professions through creating new leadership programming and courses.

To extend its reach beyond NYU Dentistry, the NYU Dentistry Center for Oral Health Policy and Management will stimulate public dialogue about oral health policy and management issues by convening seminars and symposia on key issues. These events will build off the successful model created for the October 2020 AHEAD (Achieving Health Equity for All with Disabilities) Symposium, a virtual event that attracted speakers and attendees from around the world to discuss improving oral health policy for people with disabilities.

The first NYU Dentistry Center for Oral Health Policy and Management seminar is planned for May 2021 and will focus on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on dentistry and dental education, as well as the path forward.