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15 April 2024

UW rural dentistry program helping to fill vital need across Washington

When Patty Martin was 13, she already knew she was interested in science and people.  She made a list of potential occupations in alphabetical order, pausing to consider becoming a chiropractor. She never made it past the letter “D.” While having her teeth cleaned, she asked her dentist about his job. He invited the teenager to shadow him, an experience that placed her on a trajectory to her career.

Martin grew up in the Seattle suburbs and attended Washington State University. After graduating, she got a job as a flight attendant for Alaska Airlines to help pay off student loans. On a layover in Sitka, Alaska, she received the phone call from the University of Washington School of Dentistry.

Martin was accepted to what was then the inaugural class of the Regional Initiatives in Dental Education, known by its acronym RIDE, a special cohort trained to practice dentistry in rural communities.

She felt at home in Eastern Washington, drawn to the sunshine, the rugged landscapes, and small enough communities where she could see the impact of better oral health care on her patients and their families.

A dozen years later, Dr. Martin has built herself a thriving dental practice in Walla Walla, the remote, compact city about an hour east of the Tri-Cities.

“If you can change someone’s life or leave a little piece of you along the way, I think that’s fulfilling,” she said. “What’s great about dentistry is you do get the chance to have those interactions.”

Good oral health is about much more than fighting cavities and encouraging flossing. Dentists can spot the signs of a number of other health conditions such as diabetes, cancers and high blood pressure, to name a few.

Dentists are in high demand nationwide, but especially in rural areas like Eastern and Central Washington. That is why the UW School of Dentistry created RIDE. Its mission is to offer practical experience in rural community clinics, preparing graduates for the challenges of practicing in remote locations.

In addition to workforce development, RIDE also has built a professional network throughout the Pacific Northwest, offering expertise via new technologies and creating mentorship opportunities among generations of dentists.

RIDE’s origins modeled after WWAMI

About 15 years ago, School of Dentistry officials wanted to develop a program modeled after the success of UW School of Medicine’s WWAMI, the medical education program for the five-state region of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

WWAMI helps doctors train in far-flung, rural areas as well as cutting-edge trauma centers in Seattle.

RIDE, first funded by the Washington Legislature in 2007, is similar to WWAMI in the connections and network the School of Dentistry has helped foster throughout the Pacific Northwest. By providing world-class training in small communities, the UW is creating gateways.

“We’re trying to improve access to care, particularly in rural sites in Washington and in the five-state region,” said Dr. Frank Roberts, the RIDE Director and associate dean for Regional Affairs in the School of Dentistry. “It’s the rural areas that have a lot of challenges.”

The demand is so high that the UW this year asked the Washington Legislature for and received $2.5 million to expand RIDE from 32 to 64 students, doubling the number of graduates and expanding into clinics in rural, Western Washington.

Authors: Jackson Holtz // Video by: Kiyomi Taguchi // Photos by: Dennis Wise

Read the full story here: https://dental.washington.edu/uw-rural-dentistry-program-helping-to-fill-vital-need-across-washington/

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