Q: Please tell us about yourself and the path that led you to The National Dental Association. Also, please share with us any adversity you have encountered and overcame during your studies.
Brown: My journey to the National Dental Association started dental school with the Student National Dental Association (SNDA). Almost forty years ago I was introduced to organize dentistry through my participation in SNDA at the University of Kentucky School of Dentistry (UKCD).
My experience at UKCD was very rewarding and I feel I was well prepared to deliver the best dental care to my patients and to educate the community about how important good oral health is to overall health. I was a nontraditional student, married and a mother of a young baby girl. That baby girl is now a pediatric dentist.
My dental journey started in 1976 in Kentucky and throughout the United States the racial tone was very polarized as in some areas it is today. We did not have many African American faculty at UKCD. At that time, there was only one African American faculty member at UKCD. Today, there is no full time African American faculty and one part time.
Q: Tell us about The National Dental Association. What programs and services do you offer?
Brown: Although I would like to believe that my Alma Mater is trying to diversify their student body as well as their faculty, the reality is that things today are much the same as they were in the 70's. The crusade and goals for people of color today are the same as they were in the 70's- racial equality and social justice for all. All students should feel "connected" to their peers to share common concerns and feel a part of the dental educational process. I was able to overcome the adversity and challenges with the support of my husband, my family, church family, our "one" faculty member and SNDA (my other African American classmates).
The NDA was founded in 1913 and is the oldest and most prestigious association of people of color in the dental profession.The NDA mission is to promote oral health equity among people of color by harnessing the collective power of our members, advocating for the needs of and mentoring dental students of color, and raising the profile of the profession in our communities. The NDA provides scholarships through the National Dental Association Foundation OIDAF) for dental students throughout the country. In addition, "Increasing Diversity in Dentistry" is a program also being conducted under the NDAF to introduce high school and college students to dentistry as a profession. The Undergraduate Student National Dental Association (USNDA) was formed under the umbrella of the NDA a spin-off to the SNDA; and we are presently realizing the positive impact of these programs by the enthusiasm of the program participants and their consideration of dentistry as a viable and rewarding profession. But regardless of our successes, there is much more that needs to be done.
Q: How can we increase the number of African American dentists in the dentistry profession?
Brown: A top priority for the NDA is the recruitment of African American and underrepresented minority (URM) oral health professionals. Along with recruitment, we must be committed to mentoring them, assisting them in obtaining financial aid, supporting them in making the transition from student to professional, and providing the tools and skills they need to have successful careers from graduation through retirement. The annual NDA Convention provides the opportunity for us to fulfill this commitment. During the convention, our members and others in the dental profession have an opportunity to acquire continuing education (C.E.) credits; and throughout the year, members can also participate in webinars to acquire C.E. credits. This service is also available to, our dental hygienists, dental assistants and our students.
The American Dental Education Association (ADEA) reported in 2010 that dental schools are only graduating 300 Black dentists out of 5,000 each year. African American dentists treat 61.8% African American patients while other colleagues treat less. With a shortage in our dentists in our communities, the looming question is: who will treat African American patients? This is a major concern. The landscape of the profession is changing, and along with changes in the U.S. health care system, we worry about the plight and survival of providers who have traditionally served the underserved populations.
The journey of a health professional today is like an obstacle course. Although there are challenges, the dentists of today must learn how to recognize and leverage the opportunities as well as how to navigate and overcome the obstacles.
Q: In your view, what are the top 3 challenges African American dentists face?
Brown: The top three challenges that African American dentists face are:
I . The financial burdens of the dental education and the finances required to set- up a practice; (I was considered "high risk" in 1980, so no bank granted me a start-up loan.)
2. The development of new Emerging Workforce Models designed to address the access crisis in dental shortage areas; and
3. The decrease in the number of African American dental students and increase in the number of retiring dentists in communities of color.
Q: In your opinion, how would you qualify/estimate the participation (the number) of African Americans in the field of Dentistry? In your estimation, what reasons could explain this level of participation?
Brown: The cost of a dental education is astronomical, and student graduates steeped in debt, sometimes over $250,000. Today, there is a shift away from the traditional one - dentist owned practice to the group practice, multi-specialty and corporate management models. Some "health home" models are now integrating dentistry and medicine under one roof for 'tone - stop shopping't . Dental school curricula must provide for the changing trends and offer students more courses in business and finance, and health systems management.
The African American dental graduates of today must be more than excellent clinicians.
They must also be prepared to train, supervise, recruit and lead the new Emerging Workforce Models, including inter-disciplinary providers, who are also being trained to perform preventive dental services. Dental providers are not limited to "dentists ". Therefore, ALL who provide dental services must receive high quality education consistent with approved educational standards and state licensing and credentialing regulations. They must also be able to inform and educate legislators and policy makers about the delivery models and dental shortage areas with the greatest need. The NDA dentists have made a commitment to community "first".
There is an alarming decline in the number of African American dental providers in our communities. The NDA is deeply concerned about the existing access crisis caused by this shortfall, and the exacerbation of this situation in the years ahead. As the awareness about oral health and its connection to overall health increases, there will be an even greater need for preventive oral health services to control the impact of dental diseases on conditions such as Diabetes, low birth weight babies, heart disease, lung disease and pneumonia, kidney dialysis, joint replacements, and many others. The health disparities in communities of color necessitate increased oral health education, preventive services and access to level the playing field and improve health outcomes.
Q: How can we increase the number of African American dentists in the dentistry profession?
Brown: The role of the National Dental Association will be to enlarge the scope of members who are:
l . Committed to the recruitment, financial support, matriculation and mentoring of African American dentists and other allied oral health professionals (dental hygienist, dental assistant, dental technician, dental administrator, dental practice manager, dental school faculty or researcher, dental community health educator, health journalist, and etc.).
2. Engaged in community service programs, such as NDA's national signature program, NDA- HEALTH Now™.
3. Dedicated to leadership development to ensure the future of the NDA in terms of membership recruitment and retention, financial stability, legislative advocacy, policy reform, and global social responsibility. The organization must also continue to crusade for oral health equity and to advocate for government programs, such as the Affordable Care Act, to include dental health financing across the life spectrum for children, adults and senior citizens.
The influx of women into the profession will have a profound and positive impact. The females ' inherent skills in multi - tasking and time management, along with instincts for care giving will have a tremendous impact on population health. Globally, we are witnessing the emergence of women leaders of national and international health organizations. In the U.S., the top three ethnic organizations, the NDA, Hispanic Dental Association and Society of American Indian Dentists all have women in the top leadership positions. In addition, the American Dental Association, the largest organization of dentists in America, also has women in the highest leadership ranks to including the Executive Director role.
Q: In your view, what are the major problems/issues impacting the African American community in terms of oral health care? How can we improve the oral health care in African American communities as well as in other underserved communities throughout the US?
Brown: As both caregivers and citizens of the communities that we serve, the NDA seeks to improve the health of the underserved, eliminate disparities and promote health equity. My dream is that the NDA will be the driving force in increasing the number of African American dental health professionals, improving access to care and improving health status in our communities.
Q: Finally, what specific advice do you have for African American high school and college students who want to pursue a career in dentistry?
Brown: My advice to students who excel in STEM, love to work with their hands and serve people is to pursue a career in dentistry. There is no greater viable and rewarding profession that I know. Students who chose a dental career can have enriching experiences, and exposure to the profession in a multitude of levels.