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How One Doctor Bridges the Gap Between Medical and Dental Schools

Dr. Mark Deutchman teaches oral health to medical students — and medical classes to dental students — to ensure oral health is considered in real time with overall health.

Dr. Mark Deutchman and Denise Kassebaum, DDS, the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine Dean, supervise an oral exam workshop in which medical students are taught by dental students.

Dr. Mark Deutchman is on a mission to ensure oral health is truly considered a part of overall health — and driving that mission starts with his students. A family medicine physician, Deutchman teaches oral health curriculum in the University of Colorado School of Medicine, melding his students’ dental and medical studies seamlessly. He also directs the school’s Rural Track, which encourages new physicians to serve in communities where health care providers are often few and far (literally) between. The National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services reported in 2018 that access to providers is one of the most common factors cited to impact rural oral health disparities. Deutchman, a true Preventist, is out to change that.

Why are you focused on rural health in your role at the University of Colorado?

As Director of the Rural Track, I work to admit and support people who want to be rural physicians in the future because there’s a shortage. What you take in determines what you put out, so if you mostly admit people to medical school who are from cities, that’s where they’re going to go after they graduate. About 40% of our graduates in the Rural Track end up in small towns. That’s much higher than the rest of the medical school. We know that when we attract people who have the interest, and when we support that interest during their training, many follow through. We hope that our medical students will recognize — with the oral health curriculum we offer — the value of oral health to overall health. For students who go into rural practice, it’s even more important because they’re going to be more engaged in that holistic approach — there are just fewer dentists.

Dr. Deutchman bridges the gap between the medical and dental schools at the University of Colorado.How have you worked to incorporate oral health into your students’ learning?

It started with a grant to increase collaboration between the medical and dental schools to promote overall health, and they brought me in to do three things: Teach medical classes to the dental students, try to get more oral health training into the school of medicine, and help to start a program here in Colorado called Cavity Free at Three, which encourages medical and dental providers to see kids earlier in life to promote oral health. 

The cool thing about teaching students is, if you incorporate something into their curriculum, it just becomes second nature. We’re not trying to stick oral health onto the medical curriculum — we’re trying to make it part of the medical curriculum. So that when they think of infectious disease, they think of the mouth. When they think of nutrition, they think of the mouth. It’s not just an extra, it’s part of the whole. 

How do you think COVID-19 has changed the way your current students will practice medicine and dentistry?

There will be a lot more virtual visits. There’s a fair amount that can be done, especially now that there are ways for people to report their vital signs (a blood pressure monitor, a heart rhythm monitor) from home. We can actually do more virtually than we’ve been doing. There has been a gradual evolution toward telehealth, but this particular pandemic has accelerated that exponentially. I hope that it also raises for our students the importance of population health. We can’t just look at the one patient who’s in front of us — we have to understand that the health of one person affects the health of another person, in turn, and their whole community.

Read more stories about Preventists changing their communities and learn more about the future of oral health at Preventistry.org.