The zeal of Jerold S. Goldberg, Case Western Reserve University's dean of the School of Dental Medicine, to make changes in dental education and to improve the public's health through better oral health care caught the attention of the Santa Fe Group of New Mexico.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan group was founded in the late 1990s by eight health profession leaders concerned about oral health. The group's leaders began "out of the box" thinking in response to the first Surgeon General's Report on Oral Health in 2000 that recognized a "silent epidemic" in the link between oral health diseases and systemic health problems like heart disease and diabetes.
The group of innovative leaders, with a mission to improve public health, invited Goldberg to join in initiatives that link local leaders to a network of social changers around the country to tackle some of the country's major health problems.
"The Santa Fe Group's thrust is to think about the future of the dental profession, but you cannot think about that future without a discussion of dental education," said Goldberg.
At Case, Goldberg and the dental school faculty are spearheading major curriculum changes, building a major dental research program, and looking at new ways to link student dentists with patients in the school's clinics as well as its Cleveland school-based oral care program, one of the largest in the country. The dental school has moved forward with linking student dentists as early as the first year of dental school to help with the access to oral health care issue in urban Cleveland.
Goldberg said these changes respond to growing evidence that oral health is the gateway to good health.
The 14 members of the Santa Fe Group participate in several roundtable discussions each year. A few of those leaders in dental medicine are Michael Alfano, dean of the New York University School of Dentistry; Dominick DePaola, president of the American Association of Dental Schools; Raul Garcia, professor and chair of the department of health policy and health services at Boston University; Larry Meskin, former editor of the Journal of the American Dental Association; Wendy Mouradian from the University of Washington and the chair of The Face of a Child: Surgeon General's Conference on Children and Oral Health; and Linda Niessen, president of the Santa Fe Group and a leader in geriatric dentistry.
According to Goldberg, the members strive to be "on the forefront" of critical issues and come up with workable solutions that they can share and then take back to their communities or work at the national level for implementation or consideration.
Some of the major initiatives the Santa Fe Group has promoted are an awareness of oral cancer (2000), an Oral Health Care Access Scholars Program in 2003 and its most current initiative is the reform of dental education, launched in 2003.
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