Case Western dental school puts local families first

The Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) School of Dental Medicine announced a new program called Family First in which the school will adopt nine families and care for multiple generations in a family unit.

The program is centered on the idea that dental health issues, which can be related to such health problems as diabetes and heart disease, have a tendency to run in the family and are genetically and environmentally influenced. As a part of the program, dental students will assess the risk for common dental diseases: caries, periodontal disease, and mouth cancer. It will involve all second-year dental students and an associate professor of community dentistry.

"The risk assessment data enable students to provide evidence-based dental care to their patients," said Sena Narendran, B.D.S., director of the Family First educational initiative, in a press release.

The dental school, which has provided financial support for the initiative, will start with nine families with plans to expand the numbers in the future. The families are from east Cleveland and other near suburbs. Each family has undergone dental and medical screenings and has had a treatment plan prescribed.

Starting in August, nine preceptor groups -- minidental practices at the CWRU dental center -- will care for a family that ranges from five to 10 members. The dental school will provide each family with a specified amount in free dental care.

The dental school will collaborate with George Kikano, M.D., chair of the department of family medicine at CWRU, to approach dental care holistically and treat the entire family. Mary Beth Kavanagh, from the department of nutrition at the medical school, assisted in assessing the families' diet risks.

Family First is what CWRU dental educators call A Cornerstone Experience (ACE), designed to allow students to translate textbook learning into practice. Each of the four years of dental school, students will have the opportunity to use their knowledge while performing important public health services.

Other ACE components are the Healthy Smiles Program, which takes first-year students into the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to seal the first permanent teeth and molars of second and sixth graders. Future ACEs include one in geriatric dentistry in nursing homes and one involving every student in a scientific research project.

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