Reaching the Hardly Reached: Development of a Community Dental Resource Line

Underserved populations often lack access to dental care and resources due to cost, fear, stigma, and discrimination. The COVID-19 pandemic further reduced access to dental care and resources due to restrictions on dental offices, further exacerbating these inequities.  Dr. Leeann Donnelly from the Faculty of Dentistry initiated a pilot project, Dental Link, aimed to help address these access to care issues by developing a community dental resource line that allowed community members to contact a dental professional by phone, e-mail, or virtual visit to facilitate access to needed care and resources during the pandemic.  The grant funded the purchase of several tablet devices to be hosted at various community organizations to remove technology barriers experienced by community organizations and their members while personalizing the digital experience through virtual visits.  This project also supported students to more meaningfully engage with community as virtual provider training was developed and delivered to enable future dental professionals to expand their capacity provide telehealth services and to enhance their understanding on how to best support communities and their members in meeting their oral health needs.

Community feedback of the pilot has been positive overall with some specific suggestions for future improvement.  The impact on students has also been positive as one interviewed student said their experience as a virtual provider provided a new way to engage with community members since it was an “opportunity to do things in different ways and not in-person in clinic.” In addition, the virtual provider experience supported growth in student interest in exploring other non-clinical methods of care.

Work is now under way to make program improvements and continue this expanded community engagement opportunity for students. 

If you would like to hear more about Advancing Community Engaged Learning Fund or how to center community in your teaching and learning contact us