At Maryland General Assembly, Dental Students Advocate Continued Support
Students and faculty told more than 30 key Maryland legislators in private meetings at the state capitol on Feb. 10 that the University of Maryland Dental School may not keep its top 10 rankings in dental education and research without at least its current level of financial support.
The students asked senators and delegates to support the governor's budget for the University System of Maryland, which has been supporting the School's substantial community health care services, sixth ranked research program, rural clinics for at-risk patients, and a strong role in helping the state realize oral health reform measures.
The dental students also led discussions with legislators on funding for financial aid to help pay for their dental education costs of about $150,000.
While the School's international reputation grows, weak economics of the state budget and employee furloughs could sour morale and result in faculty leaving for other states, said Louis DePaola, DDS, professor of oncology and diagnostic sciences. He noted the School recently reached a national ranking of sixth in dental research in the country.
The students reminded legislators of the School's dental services to the public. The Dental School is the largest supplier of dental services to underserved populations in Maryland with $12 to $16 million donated annually in uncompensated services to the needy in the Baltimore region. Also, the School's new rural dental facility in Perrryville draws at-risk patients from Cecil and Harford counties and the Eastern Shore.
Senator Thomas "Mac" Middleton of Charles County greeted the students with an appeal to consider practicing in rural Maryland. He said that recently a public clinic run by the county's health department had a waiting list of thousands.
"That is the under-met need and that is what you [students] will start to experience when you get your degrees and go out into the community and hang your shingle up," said Middleton. "My first hope is that you will stay in the state of Maryland. My second hope is that some of you will take a look at some of the underserved areas."
Delegate James Proctor Jr. of Prince George's and Calvert counties said he wants to see the Dental School programs and facilities upgraded because "we've got to make sure we are keeping up to date with all the new practices and technologies."
DePaola said the main point he hoped to communicate to the legislature is that "we have suffered tremendous degradation of our state funding during the past three or four years to the point where, if there is any more reduction to the university system, we will not be able to function at the same level. We will have to take drastic steps in our programs and we are not going to be able to continue to serve the underserved as we could."
The students handed each legislator a status report on a number of oral health care reform measures that the General Assembly and Governor supported after the death of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old, whose tooth cavity led to a brain infection. An $80 dental care visit would have prevented his abscess. Instead, his death sounded the alarm that resulted in the appointment of the Dental Action Committee by the Secretary of Health.
Dentists at the School's public clinics continue to admit one to two patients a week to the University of Maryland Medical Center with serious dental infections, revealed Depaola.
"These could have been taken care of with only $100 to $200 in dental care. Instead they are admitted to the hospital," said DePaola.