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14 August 2023

Columbia U students awarded fellowship to create oral health course for med students

By Columbia University CDM News

One of the fundamental tenets of Columbia University College of Dental Medicine is that oral health is inextricably linked to overall health. CDM is one of four dental schools in the U.S. that combines dental education with a medical school curriculum.

DDS candidates at CDM spend their preclinical years studying alongside medical students from Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. As a result, the college produces health care professionals at the forefront of dental research and patient care, who practice dentistry as the oral health specialty of medicine.

Alan Mograby and Anthony Sulvetta, both members of the CDM class of 2025, were finishing their preclinical studies when it occurred to them that, although they now had the same background in sciences relevant to the understanding of clinical medicine, anatomy and physiology, medical students were not given any information about oral health.

“When physicians look in the mouth, they tend to look past the teeth,” said Mograby in a university news story.

Sulvetta said that he became especially aware of the insufficient integration and coordination between medicine and dentistry when his father developed pain in his neck and jaw that was eventually diagnosed as a plasmacytoma at the base of his skull, pushing on a nerve. He saw a dentist and a doctor before he received a diagnosis.

“It made me think that there is a hole in medical training that needs to be filled,” Sulvetta said.

So, the pair had the idea to develop a mini course that would provide medical students with a background in dentistry with the goal of expanding the physician’s role in addressing oral health issues.

“There is research that demonstrates that there is a lack of knowledge among physicians when it comes to dentistry,” Mograby said. “Our idea was to help with the efficiency of getting the patient to the right provider,” Sulvetta added.

The pair reached out to Dr. John Grbic, professor of dental medicine and the director of the Division of Foundational Sciences at CDM, who is serving as their faculty advisor. Dr. Dana Wolf, CDM’s academic dean for Predoctoral Programs, let them know that proposals for the Steve Miller Fellowship were being accepted. They are the first dental students to receive it since it was established in 2010 in memory of beloved professor at VP&S.  

They plan to beta test their mini course this summer by assembling 30 fourth-year medical students and giving them a pre-course oral health care assessment. Students would have two weeks to take the course, which will comprise a series of slide shows with voice over, covering dental anatomy, procedures, drugs, caries, gingivitis, periodontal disease, etc., as well as the oral manifestations of systemic diseases.  The course will be followed by an assessment of course knowledge acquisition and retention.

“Steven Miller, for whom this fellowship is named, was a gifted teacher who had a profound effect on the ways in which medicine is both taught and practiced at Columbia,” said Dr. Elizabeth Philipone, DMD, associate professor of dental medicine and director of CDM’s oral pathology residency program, who is working with Mograby and Sulvetta to develop the course. “The learning module for medical students that Alan and Anthony have proposed and are designing will enhance medical education at Columbia and give students at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons a better understanding of the ways in which oral health impacts overall health.” 

Mograby and Sulvetta said that they believe this course will underline the utility of an official supplemental dental curriculum in the VP&S program.

“Oftentimes, patients present to their primary care physicians with symptoms that may be due to underlying oral health diseases,” Mograby said. “It is imperative for the doctor to recognize this and direct the patient to the appropriate health field professional to ensure adequate care in a timely manner.”

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