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Missouri Foundation for Health (MFH) awards $500,000 grant to A.T. Still University’s Kirksville-based dental program

KIRKSVILLE, Mo. – Future access to oral healthcare just became much brighter for Missouri’s most vulnerable populations, including the state’s uninsured, underinsured, and underserved populations of all ages.

The Missouri Foundation for Health (MFH) has announced that it will provide an initial $500,000 grant (beginning April 1, 2011) to A.T. Still University (ATSU) to help the University plan and develop a new and innovative dental branch program in Kirksville, Mo. Additional MFH funding (of approximately $2.5 million) has been requested by ATSU for its subsequent 2012 developmental/start-up phase and 2013 launch/implementation phase, contingent upon successful completion of the initial planning and development phase. ATSU expects to open its Missouri dental program with its first class of 40 to 50 students in fall 2013.

The four-year Missouri dental curriculum is being modeled after the highly successful and innovative dental program at ATSU’s Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health (ASDOH) in Mesa, Ariz. The goal of ATSU’s new Missouri-based dental program is to educate and produce a whole new generation of community-minded dentists who will help fill oral health workforce gaps, including in Community Health Centers (CHCs) across the state.

Dr. Jack Magruder, ATSU president, states, “Adding the dental program to our ATSU Kirksville campus will not only enhance interprofessional education in our state, but provide meaningful oral health outcomes, especially among Missouri’s most vulnerable populations. With this generous support from MFH, we are confident that our dental program in Kirksville—involving local and other Missouri CHCs—will be highly successful and will help fulfill the missions of both ATSU and MFH.”

Missouri has a profound need for more oral healthcare providers. Currently the state ranks 47th in the nation in residents visiting a dentist, and 49th for children. The shortage of dentists in Missouri is already significant, and while the number of dentists steadily decreases, the population of the state continues to increase. Each year this dentist shortage grows, as evidenced by the disparity between the approximate number of dentists retiring (70) versus new dentists starting practice (45) in our state.

Beginning with the announcement of a feasibility study last September, the proposed plan to create a dental program on ATSU’s Kirksville campus has received widespread support. A concerned group of local citizens formed the Community Friends for ATSU Dental committee last fall, with the objective of raising the first $1 million in financial pledges. In about four months, this committee, co-chaired by Ranee Brayton and Larry Gardner, exceeded their goal by raising more than $1.1 million in gifts and pledges for the dental program from local individual donors, businesses, and organizations. This amount is especially significant given that the population base of Kirksville is slightly over 17,000.

Under the modified ASDOH instructional model, the first two pre-clinical years of the new dental program will be based on ATSU’s Kirksville campus, with the final two clinical years distributed among four or five Missouri-based CHC Regional Centers, including one in Kirksville. This evidence-based educational model is designed to maximize retention of graduates in Missouri CHCs. Graduates will earn the D.M.D. (Doctor of Dental Medicine) degree and a certificate in Public Health, the latter in cooperation with ATSU’s Kirksville-based School of Health Management.

The initial MFH grant to ATSU will be used to help staff the dental branch campus in Kirksville and establish key educational partnerships with CHCs. President Magruder hopes to begin the process as soon as possible by hiring a vice dean to be based in Kirksville to develop and oversee the Missouri dental branch program under this initial award.

Adds President Magruder, “We are grateful for the tremendous support from MFH to assist in the development of the Kirksville-based ATSU dental project, which has the potential to transform dental education nationally.”

A philanthropic organization whose vision is to improve the health of the people in the communities it services, MFH was established in 2000 and is the largest nongovernmental funder of community health activities in Missouri.

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