COMPARATIVE STUDY
JOURNAL ARTICLE

Dental education and care for underserved patients: an analysis of students' intentions and alumni behavior

Carlos S Smith, Todd V Ester, Marita Rohr Inglehart
Journal of Dental Education 2006, 70 (4): 398-408
16595532
The U.S. surgeon general's report on oral health stressed the importance of providing dental care to underserved patients. The objectives of this study were to explore a) dental students' intentions and dentists' behavior concerning treating underserved patients, b) their perceptions of their education concerning these patients, and c) the relationship between dental education and their attitudes and behavior. Data were collected from 328 dental students (response rate: 77.5 percent) and 234 alumni (response rate: 43.7 percent). Only 67.4 percent of the students and 38 percent of the alumni indicated that their education had prepared them well to treat patients from different socioeconomic backgrounds; 71.3 percent of students and 55.2 percent of alumni responded that they had been well educated to treat patients from different ethnic/racial groups. The findings showed a positive relationship between the degree of curriculum focus on the importance of treating patients from all aspects of society and students' and alumni intentions to provide inclusive patient care to patients from diverse backgrounds. The more students agreed that their dental education had prepared them well to treat patients from different ethnic backgrounds, the more likely they were to report that they intended to treat these patients (r=.12; p=.033). In a similar manner, the more the alumni agreed that their dental education had prepared them well to treat patients in different communities, the more likely they were to treat patients from different socioeconomic backgrounds (r=.18; p=.009). In conclusion, these findings showed that access to oral health care for underserved patients could potentially be increased if dental students were more overtly educated about the importance of treating patients from all segments of society.

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