New program in U’s School of Dentistry helps improve access to dental care in Utah | University of Utah Health

Exterior of the Raytheon Oral Health Sciences Building

Although Utah has more dentists per capita than almost any other state, 18 of the state's 29 counties are designated “Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas.” In addition, Utah has 35 high-need clinics with an urgent need for dental health care professionals.

Utah’s dental workforce is unevenly distributed, leaving too few dental health professionals to meet the needs of many Utahns across the state. Overall, our rural, tribal, and minority communities are hardest hit by these shortages and experience worsening health outcomes due to a lack of access. One of the strategies developed by the University of Utah School of Dentistry to address this gap is an admissions program called PRE-CAP.

By recruiting and intensively training students from these high-need rural, tribal, and/or medically underserved communities, we hope to organically increase access to care as these new dentists return to the areas where they grew up and plan to practice for life. PRE-CAP sources potential candidates from the traditional dental school admissions cycle, identifying those whose metrics do not yet meet minimum admissions standards. Instead, up to three students will be eligible for admission to the next academic year, subject to their successful completion of the PRE-CAP course.

Registered students will receive scholarship support and a living stipend to remove any financial barriers. They also receive targeted support and guidance to address academic barriers. Participants in the program complete a rigorous one-year curriculum that combines traditional health science content with an exploration of the social determinants of health. The program is designed to help them transition successfully into a full-time dental education program and subsequent career.

The plan also emphasizes interprofessional collaboration as the key to successful patient advocacy and acknowledges that any multidisciplinary effort to restore the health of these communities will be more successful when individuals in these communities are directly empowered. PRE-CAP students are trained alongside medical students, social workers, and community health advocates to assist patients in overcoming structural barriers that adversely affect their oral health. This philosophy is not unique to dental schools, in fact PRE-CAP was inspired by the same style of program implemented in the medical school's PROMIS2U program. These collaborative, student-centered projects provide the opportunity to revolutionize future generations.

For more information about this innovative program that is reshaping dental care in Utah, visit the PRE-CAP webpage on the School of Dentistry website.

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