As the daughter of a dental hygienist and the granddaughter of a dentist, Kendall Hancock had the importance of good oral health instilled in her at an early age. Now in her fourth year at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, this future primary care physician realized the time was right to learn more about the relationship between dental care and overall health. Hancock was the first student to enroll in the school’s new oral health clerkship elective.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that there can be oral signs of systemic diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, and diabetes,” Hancock said. “Also, poor oral hygiene can negatively affect conditions such as heart disease and prenatal outcomes.”

The goal of the elective is to provide medical students the diagnostic and clinical skills to incorporate oral health care in their future practices to enhance patient outcomes.

During the course of the elective, Hancock spent time in the adult and pediatric dental clinics at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, as well as the Virginia Intercollegiate Anatomy Lab learning head and neck anatomy and practicing administering nerve blocks and pulling teeth. She also spent time observing surgery for patients who needed dental work under sedation.

“Kendall was very self-motivated,” said Charles “Bud” Conklin, associate professor of surgery and thread director for oral health and oral medicine. “She was engaged; she asked a lot of questions. Her feedback will help us tremendously in evaluating the program for future students.”

Hancock said she asked Conklin and Lee Jones, assistant professor of surgery and section chief for Carilion Clinic dental care, about offering an oral health-oral medicine elective after observations made during her third-year rotations.

“I noticed that people who didn’t know how to access dental care would turn to their primary care providers or the emergency department with dental complaints,” she said. “This elective helped me gain a better understanding of what I can do as a future primary care physician to help provide temporary relief to patients like these while pointing them toward accessible dental care.”

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s oral health curriculum is made possible through an endowment from Delta Dental of Virginia. The endowment supports an annual oral health week at the medical school, which includes a guest lecture and a dedicated curriculum.

“The oral health clerkship elective has allowed our program to grow,” Conklin said. “Thanks to Delta Dental, we believe we have the most robust oral health program built into a medical school curriculum anywhere in the country.”


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