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"Kenya Outreach a Highlight of My Dental Education" Student Says

A University of Michigan dental student says providing oral health care and educating adults and children about its importance while she was in a village in Kenya was one of the highlights of her education at the School of Dentistry.

Janelle Cooper, a fourth-year dental student, participated in the Kenya Summer Research Program (KSRP) this past summer and in 2013 as part of an interprofessional collaboration among U-M students and faculty in dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy.  For two weeks, the group worked with local officials helping children and adults in Meru, a village about 110 miles northeast of Nairobi.  There they provided oral health care services and developed educational programs to help reduce oral disease.

International College of Dentists Impressed

Cooper’s enthusiasm was brought to the attention of Dr. Ronald Paler (DDS 1961), a regent of the U.S. section of the International College of Dentists.  He invited Cooper to talk about her experiences during the ADA’s annual session in San Antonio in early October.

Speaking to the group of dentists, Cooper said that she participated in KSRP “because I wanted to expand my awareness of global health disparities, conduct research and work to improve the lives of others around the world.  I returned home having an even greater appreciation for what dentists are doing here in this country to improve oral health.”

In addition to collecting data about the prevalence of dental caries, for example, the dental students passed out toothbrushes and toothpaste, demonstrated tooth brushing techniques, and talked about the importance of diet in maintaining good oral health.

They also investigated what oral health care services were available in and near Meru.  “There are only three private practice dentists and four dentists working for the government, and the closest dental clinic, run by the government, was ten miles away,” she said.  “We want to work with officials in the Meru area to set up a dental clinic and provide educational programs for the people there.”

In Meru, Cooper said she met a student, Newton, who helped an earlier KSRP group collect data.  Originally, she said, Newton wanted to graduate from high school and join the military.  But after helping U-M students and faculty in the KSRP program for three consecutive years, he changed his plans.  Now he wants to become a dentist.  “Newton has opened our eyes to the influence we have on the people we meet,” Cooper said.

“The Kenya Summer Research Program is one of the highlights of my dental education at Michigan,” Cooper said.  “It holds a special place in my heart because it has given me the opportunity to learn and grow as an oral health care professional and as a person.  It has also allowed me solidify my desire to influence the lives of others through dentistry.”

Dr. Robert Eber, a clinical professor in the Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine and director of the School of Dentistry’s health care delivery Pathway, said the Kenya Summer Research Program is one of the keystone projects in the Pathways and Global Oral Health Initiative programs.  “Janelle did a superb job representing the School of Dentistry and talking about KSRP to the International College of Dentists,” he said.

Paler said he received many favorable comments about Cooper’s presentation.  In a note to her, he wrote, “It was very obvious that you were passionate about serving the people of Kenya.  I was very proud to have you represent the University of Michigan School of Dentistry.”

Cooper said she hopes to be among those helping to establish that clinic.  After receiving her dental degree next May (2015), Cooper wants to continue her education in a General Practice Residency program.

Posted November 25, 2014