Published June 23, 2021
The School of Dental Medicine has welcomed the first cohort of 24 students to the Destination Dental School program, a new initiative that aims to remove barriers to careers in dentistry for underrepresented students.
The free, eight-week program, which is open to underrepresented undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students nationwide, drew participants from 14 states, stretching from New York to Florida to California.
Destination Dental School will provide participants with an understanding of the day-to-day life of a dentist and dental student, help strengthen their dental school applications, and develop their skills as researchers.
By increasing the enrollment of underrepresented students in dental schools, the program will help address the shortage of dentists of color. Latino, African American and Native American people make up around 5%, 4% and 1% of dentists, respectively, despite representing a larger percentage of the U.S. population, according to the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute.
Pipeline programs, however, have proven to be an effective solution, increasing enrollment of underrepresented students in dental schools by 54%, according to a report by the Journal of the American Dental Association.
“The racial and ethnic diversity of the oral health care workforce remains disturbingly insufficient to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population in the United States,” said program director Wendell Carmona, volunteer adjunct professor in the School of Dental Medicine and managing clinical director for Aspen Dental in Niagara Falls.
“Dental school appearing as an unachievable goal and limited exposure to the field of dentistry are two obstacles that have contributed to this lack of representation,” he said. “Destination Dental School proudly and effectively addresses these obstacles, and is an exceptional introduction to dentistry that piques and nourishes our students’ interest in the field. Our students are educated by dental professionals who look like them, showing that it is not beyond their reach.”
Held virtually from June 5 to July 31, the program will provide hands-on simulations that teach tooth anatomy and the process for creating fillings and taking impressions; presentations that explore the various disciplines within dental medicine; networking opportunities with local dentistry leaders; and dental school application assistance that includes weekly guidance from more than 30 UB dental faculty, staff, students and alumni, and preparation for the Dental Admission Test — a standardized exam required for entry into dental school.
Students will also complete a capstone research project that may address a range of topics, including disparities in dental care, the long-term impact of veneers on young patients with healthy teeth, and comparing the effectiveness of Invisalign with traditional orthodontic treatment.
The program will cover the cost of the Dental Admission Test, and participants who apply to the UB School of Dental Medicine will receive an application fee waiver.
“I applied to Destination Dental School because I saw the support for minorities in dentistry. I had a feeling like this was going to be my support system and that the program would help me become a competitive applicant,” said program participant Jasmine Gray. “I want to help those who feel insecure with their smiles. I have learned that an undying confidence in yourself and how you look can help you conquer your wildest dreams.”
Destination Dental School, which was founded by UB School of Dental Medicine alumna Arian Johnson, who encountered difficulties applying to dental school, is sponsored by the family of UB alumnus and former faculty member Philip Galeota, and Aspen Dental. Supplies and resources were provided by Evolution Dental, Henry Schein, Ivoclar Vivadent and Kaplan.
“Supporting Destination Dental School provided an ideal means to express our father’s lifelong gratitude for the educational support and access he received as a veteran of World War II via the G.I. Bill — and to honor his express wish that part of his estate be devoted to opening such opportunities to Black and other underrepresented minority dental students,” the children of Philip and Catherine Galeota — Monica G. Hamill, Philip Galeota, Cynthia Galeota and Sandra Galeota-Long — said in a statement.