RWJF “Clinical Scholars” team invests in education to improve oral health for MN kids with special health care needs

An interprofessional trio of University of Minnesota healthcare providers has been selected as one of 8 teams in the first 3-year cohort of Clinical Scholars, a new national leadership program, led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

Through the clinical scholars program, the team will tackle impediments to access to quality dental care for children, particularly for children with special health care needs in Minnesota.

“We want every child in our state, especially those with needs for special health care services, to have a dental home,” said the Clinical Scholar team leader Jeffrey Karp, D.M.D., M.S.

Karp is a clinical associate professor and director of the Pediatric Dentistry Residency Program  at the University of Minnesota’s School of Dentistry.

“People often forget that oral health directly relates to overall health and wellbeing. It cannot be overlooked,” said Peter Scal, M.D., M.P.H., Clinical Scholars fellow and professor in the Medical School.

Many children with special health care needs across Minnesota have unmet oral health problems. These patients face broad reaching health disparities especially when their care is limited by complex medical conditions, behavioral challenges and needs for significant team care and complicated treatment procedures.

“These children can thrive, however, in a dental home where individualized, patient and family-centered, continuous, comprehensive, coordinated and collaborative care is best provided,” Karp said.

Minnesota unfortunately has a shortage of dentists in most counties, and many offices may not have the knowledge, experience and comfort needed to care for children who need special treatment.  Many dentists refer patients to a specialty center, like the University of Minnesota, because they don’t have resources or training to care for children with various special health care needs.

“There are many children who need our help, but we have a complicated system for providing the necessary care,” says Clinical Scholars fellow Mark DeRuiter, Ph.D., M.B.A. DeRuiter is associate department director and Director of Graduate Studies and Clinical Education in the Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences.

To champion and promote care for these children, the team’s impact project focuses on education and collaboration across the state including:

  • Working with community health workers, social workers, dentists, physicians and other health care providers to identify solutions and implement best practices for improving access and utilization of a dental home
  • Educating providers across the state through development of a tele-mentoring and case-based learning network
  • Engaging community groups, social service agencies and other partners to raise awareness and support expansion of the oral health workforce in the patient’s community as means to reduce the need for travel to the Twin Cities for care
  • Exploring ways to improve cultural humility and patient and family-centered care
  • Publicizing the project’s best practices, resources and outcomes as a model for other similar projects in Minnesota and elsewhere

“We want to move and expand knowledge, instead of people,” Karp said. “Let’s build a solution around the child’s needs.”

The interdisciplinary nature of the leadership team frames the project to do just that. Scal has a background in medicine and public health, and DeRuiter specializes in speech-language pathology, which has a strong connection to oral health.

“We are all stakeholders at the same table, we all bring our expertise,” said Scal. “Through this project, we with the support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are taking action to build a Culture of Health that promotes the care and wellbeing of the children in our state.”

Learn more about the project.
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities