UNC School of Dentistry: Renewed commitment to global reach

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s (UNC Chapel Hill) School of Dentistry may be nestled in idyllic, quaint Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but the school’s reach has long extended far beyond the town’s 20-mile span. For many years, the UNC School of Dentistry has been proud of its commitment to global service efforts, the international presence of its alumni, and number of international partnerships.

But this year, under new leadership and harboring a vision to become the global model for oral health education in both care and discovery; the UNC School of Dentistry recommitted itself to not just maintaining, but also growing its global footprint.

The school appointed its first Assistant Dean for Global Initiatives, Luiz Pimenta, DDS, MS, PhD. He has been tasked to identify new ways that the school can engage globally, through programs, partnerships and innovative initiatives. He will also establish and oversee the school’s new Office of Global Initiatives. Current efforts – like the school’s international trips – will be pulled into the new office, allowing for more efficient use of resources.

Of the new office and position, Dean Scott S. De Rossi said, “Globalization—the increasing transnational circulation of money, goods, people, ideas, and information worldwide—is generally recognized as one of the most powerful forces shaping healthcare. The creation of this office and the appointment of Dr. Pimenta as its director allow our school to be better positioned as the leader in oral health on a global scale.”

Among the first things Pimenta did in his new role was investigate the feasibility of a track to allow internationally-trained dentists to receive their US training at the school. Recently, UNC received approval for the track from the Commission on Dental Accreditation, or CODA, and is awaiting final approval from university officials. The school expects to enroll its first international cohort in January 2020, with global admissions set to launch in summer 2019.

“This is incredibly exciting for our school,” said Pimenta. “There are incredible benefits to allowing internationally trained dentists to join our DDS cohort, and we cannot wait to expand our class to include this valuable constituency.”

The Office of Global Initiatives inherits a robust, extensive global service trip program. This academic year, the school is proud to have 10 student-led international outreach trips taking place between March and August 2018. They include:

Brazil: Students assist and observe patient care procedures, get to shadow Brazilian faculty and residents, and pair with Brazilian dental students to observe their clinical and pre-clinical activities. Students visit the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the School of Dentistry at Bauru, University of Sao Paulo. Students have traveled to Brazil since 2008.

China: Students visit China for roughly three weeks, providing oral screenings and oral health instruction education to local communities around the Qingdao and Beijing regions. The students also have the opportunity to observe and learn about oral healthcare in China. The primary partners for this endeavor are Qingdao Stomatological Hospital and Peking University Hospital of Stomatology. This project was established in 2016.

India: Students spend their time providing preventive and relief oral care to the underserved population of rural Karnataka. The group partners primarily with Yenepova Dental College and JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research. The inaugural trip to India took place in 2017.

Malawi: Founded in 2004, this trip allows students to travel to Lilongwe’s Kamuzu Central Dental Clinic to provide emergency, preventive and restorative care to those in need in remote villages, schools and in Lilongwe Hospital. Students also educate school-aged Malawians about oral health and hygiene, and about HIV/AIDS and associated risks. It is part of a cultural exchange with the Mzuzu University.

Mexico: As the school’s longest-standing international service trip, students from UNC School of Dentistry have been traveling to Mexico since 1986. For three weeks, these students provide care to more than 1,000 children in the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos Orphanage. They donate dental supplies and educate the children on good oral care, in addition to treatment the children receive.

Moldova: Students participate in an exchange program with the dental school in Chisinau, Moldova and provide care at the medical clinic of the Straseni orphanage. Students are paired with fellow trainees from the Nicolae Testemitanu State University of Medicine and Pharmacy of the Republic of Moldova, who work together throughout the multiweek trip. This effort began in 2004.

Nepal: Since 2014, students have visited Kathmandu in July and August to provide care and oral healthcare supplies to those in remote villages and orphanages throughout Nepal. Students administer oral hygiene instruction, oral screenings, restorations, extractions and cancer screenings to patients.

Nicaragua: In partnership with Operation Smile, the school will have its inaugural trip to Managua this March. Students will travel to Operation Smile’s Managua-based Craniofacial Center to treat children born with craniofacial anomalies, including cleft lip and palate. This is the school’s first trip that allows students to work with patients with such abnormalities abroad.

Philippines: The first group of students traveled to Jagna and Bohol in July 2015, and each year, the school continues to send students for two weeks to administer oral care to the pediatric population. This trip runs in partnership with the Philos Health Organization.

Uganda: Students partner with the Makerere University College of Health Sciences for this trip, in which they travel to Kampala and provide oral care to adults and children in isolated parts of Uganda. They hand out dental supplies, teach good oral hygiene practice and administer critical dental care to those in need.

It’s easy to see the longstanding dedication towards global oral health, and the UNC School of Dentistry is proud to be making that commitment.

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