Okemos, Michigan—Incoming dental students from systemically underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds will soon have new scholarship opportunities thanks to the Delta Dental Foundation (DDF). The $25,000 Diversity Dental Student Scholarship will be awarded annually to five students entering Case Western Reserve School of Dental Medicine, Ohio State University College of Dentistry, University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry, Indiana University School of Dentistry, and the University of Michigan School of Dentistry.
“Diversifying the dental field is one way to tackle oral health disparities and racism in health care,” says Holli Seabury, EdD, executive director of the DDF. “Increase representation, improve care for underserved communities.”
Dental care remains underused by or inaccessible to communities of color—largely due to historical disenfranchisement and discrimination. Today, one in five people of color report experiencing racism or discrimination in a health care setting. As a result, many have poorer oral health and higher rates of periodontal disease and tooth decay, which can lead to tooth loss and other health issues.
Better representation can help. Evidence suggests patients of color receive better care from—and establish greater trust with—providers who look like they do. There’s just one problem: there aren’t enough of those providers to go around. Despite accounting for more than one-third of the U.S. population, fewer than 10 percent of dentists are Black, Hispanic, or Indigenous.
“Financial concerns are one reason many prospective dental students bow out,” says Seabury. “Our hope is that by providing upfront financial support, the Diversity Dental Student Scholarship will encourage more students to take that leap.”
“As a Catholic institution with Jesuit and Mercy sponsors, we understand the issues of social justice and equity and the importance of building a diverse oral health workforce as part of improving access to care and patient compliance within marginalized populations,” said Dr. Mert N. Aksu, Dean, University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry. “We see firsthand the impact of connecting patients with providers who have the ability to relate in a way that overcomes cultural and social barriers and improves care outcomes.”
“Improving diversity in all its forms is a longstanding goal of our school,” said Laurie K. McCauley, Dean, University of Michigan School of Dentistry. “We are proud to partner with Delta Dental Foundation to support students who are disadvantaged educationally, socially or economically.”
“We are grateful for the generous support provided by Delta Dental Foundation through this new scholarship for students from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds at Indiana University School of Dentistry,” said Dr. Carol Anne Murdoch-Kinch, Dean, Indiana University School of Dentistry. “This new scholarship will help make it possible for more underrepresented minority students to enter the dental profession, one of many avenues for change required to improve oral health care for underserved communities.”
“Ohio’s underserved and minority communities have a demonstrated need for oral health care resources,” said Dr. Patrick Lloyd, Dean, Ohio State University College of Dentistry. “The Diversity Dental Student Scholarship will support our College of Dentistry’s efforts to attract diverse students who will graduate from our DDS program and consider establishing their own dental practices in the state’s underserved areas and communities in need. We applaud the Delta Dental Foundation’s efforts in addressing this need, and we are honored to partner with them as we work to reduce oral health care disparities in Ohio.”