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New UW oral health center to organize global collaboration

To improve worldwide collaboration in dental research and education, the UW School of Dentistry recently launched a Center for Global Oral Health (CGOH).

The CGOH, which also works with the UW School of Public Health, is hoped to bolster international collaboration in both dental research and student and faculty exchanges. While the UW School of Dentistry is already active in international oral-health collaboration in these areas, the new center provides a structure to better organize these activities.

Heading the new organization is Dr. Timothy DeRouen, a professor of oral health sciences in the School of Dentistry and biostatistics in the School of Public Health.

“The center was created because in the school we have a number of international activities ongoing but we don’t currently try to coordinate those or try to build upon those in any way,” DeRouen said. “It’s a matter of trying to focus the activities that we have and coordinate them better to be more efficient and hopefully in the long run to increase the amount of activity we have internationally.”

DeRouen is an expert in the fields of epidemiology and biostatistics, has worked internationally, and established a summer research training institute in 1992.

“There’s really nobody I know in all of dentistry who is more qualified than Dr. DeRouen to lead this, so we’re just fortunate that he’s willing to do it here,” said Joel Berg, dean of the UW School of Dentistry.

DeRouen said study abroad experience, which the center will help facilitate, is particularly beneficial for dental students because it broadens their view of what dentistry is and allows them to observe certain oral diseases and practices that may not be prevalent in the United States.

“It’s always good for our dental students and for dental students in other countries to see what dentistry is like in other countries, because dentistry is not necessarily practiced in exactly the same way [around the world],” Derouen said.

According to Berg, this kind of experience also expands students’ focus from an individual patient to the broader health of the population.

Dr. Linda LeResche, a professor within the School of Dentistry and interim associate dean of research, said dental students’ workload often prevents them from studying abroad. However, she said more students are taking the opportunity to go observe dentistry in other countries.

“I think that there is a trend toward more work outside of the walls of the dental school and this is an opportunity for students to work in different countries,” LeResche said.

Berg also said the students often have a limited ability to study abroad during the four-year dental program, but the center may prompt students to consider other opportunities abroad, such as an international fellowship or research.

The new center will also aim to increase research collaboration among institutions around the world. This will allow researchers to study risk factors and conditions that may be rare in the United States and better assess the origin of certain diseases.

“In this country for example, the major risk factors are tobacco and alcohol, and it’s hard to do any studies in which you look at other things like nutritional factors,” DeRouen said. “Other countries where there may be less alcohol or tobacco used will allow you to study other things like nutrition.”

The center is still managing a few funding challenges. According to DeRouen, students are also unable to treat patients due to liability issues.

Despite challenges, however, he believes the center has received general support.

Reach reporter Ola Wietecha at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @OWietecha

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