UTHealth School of Dentistry offers new 'telementoring' program

Kuwaiti dentist Alaa Al-Saffar, DDS, may be 7,000 miles from the Texas Medical Center but that did not keep her from catching a lecture on mouth ulcers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

Al-Saffar and dozens of others worldwide learned about aspects of these common lesions during the first online lecture offered through the new 'telementoring' program at School of Dentistry at UTHealth. The July 1 talk was given by Jerry Bouquot, DDS, MSD, a world-renowned oral pathologist and former department chair at the school.

We're making it easy for dentists throughout the world to keep up with the latest developments in our fast-changing field."

Sudarat Kiat-amnuay, DDS, MS, professor and director of the Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency program at the school

The idea is to make the school's clinicians and researchers available to dentists and other health care providers in remote parts of the world with two-way voice and visual communication.

"We'll be providing continuing education (CE) opportunities such as the recent free CE ulcer lecture by Dr. Bouquot. We're also making our faculty members available for consultation on hard-to-treat cases," Kiat-amnuay said.

The initiative is part of a worldwide movement to foster greater cooperation among caregivers called Project ECHO® (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes). It started in 2003 at the University of New Mexico.

Project ECHO at UTHealth School of Dentistry will initially be focused on the dental care of seniors.

There are lots of baby boomers and many need help with their teeth," said Kiat-amnuay, who directs the first Project ECHO initiative at UTHealth.

"Oral health is a gateway to our overall health. Yet, many Texans live in areas where dental services are in short supply," she said.

UTHealth School of Dentistry Dean John Valenza, DDS, said, "Community outreach is a big part of our mission at the dental school. We treat patients of all ages but we are particularly interested in helping children and the elderly." Valenza is The William N. Finnegan III Distinguished Professor in the Dental Sciences at UTHealth.

Ellen Baker, MD, MPH, director of Project ECHO at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, said, "Much of the expertise that lives in academic health centers is not being shared with colleagues in rural and underserved areas. You could say it is being stored in silos and Project ECHO is a way to share and disseminate this knowledge."

MD Anderson has been designated as an ECHO super hub for oncology by the ECHO Institute at the University of New Mexico Health Science Center (UNMHSC). MD Anderson is one of just nine ECHO super hub sites in the world and the first focused on oncology.

Participants can log into presentations from computers, tablets, or smartphones. "These are virtual professional communities. There are hundreds of ECHO groups but very few are focused on dental care," Baker said.

Al-Saffar, who earned her doctor of dental surgery at the University of Kuwait, was not the only international participant who logged into the mouth ulcer presentation. There were also dentists from Oman, Brazil, China, and Saudi Arabia. In keeping with the spirit of ECHO, there were online pre- and post-tests to identify improvements in the knowledge of participants.

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