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New Center for Health Promotion is ‘improving oral health, improving overall health’

Faculty and leadership associate with the Center for Health Promotion stand for a group photo under the clinic’s name.
The Center for Health Promotion aims to assess and manage oral and systemic risk factors through patient education and interprofessional care. Photo by Dylan Allen.
Center for Health Promotion team members gather around a dental chair for a group photo.
The Center for Health Promotion started seeing patients in early 2024 and is currently open Monday afternoons and Thursday mornings. Photo by Dylan Allen.

The Office of Patient Care at UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry commenced services in the new Center for Health Promotion (CHP), a clinic that offers a patient-centered comprehensive approach to oral care, on Jan. 29.

The CHP is a first-of-its-kind clinic on the dental school’s first floor, which aims to identify and manage oral and systemic risk factors through Integrated Dental Medicine (more commonly referred to as IDM), emphasizing patient education and interprofessional care.

“We already have a very comprehensive approach to oral care,” said Shalizeh “Shelly” Patel, DDS, MEd, associate dean for patient care. “When a patient is accepted into our care, we complete a comprehensive oral evaluation, treating any existing gum disease and cavities.

“Treatment is only sustainable when we partner with our patients to help them improve their oral health and manage their overall health.”

The CHP is the direct outcome of the School of Dentistry’s New Models Clinical and Curricular Change Initiative. As part of the New Models, the school has integrated new didactic, preclinical, and clinical teaching and assessment models in the predoctoral curriculum aligned with the School of Dentistry’s Strategic Plan for 2022-2027.

With both the curriculum and clinical changes, CHP providers will be able to more directly address the underlying systemic conditions that contribute to a patient’s oral health.

“Many years ago, dentistry was divorced from medicine. Over the last 60 years, we’ve seen how this separation has affected the population,” said Shalizeh Patel. “Not today, but in the next decade, we will shift the practice philosophy to focus on the important links between oral health and overall health rather than only treating the symptoms of disease. Therefore, an important part of the CHP’s mission is to educate future graduates on the link between oral and overall health and collaborate with other health care professionals in providing care.”

The CHP is a hub where medicine, dentistry, behavioral factors, and social well-being come together to promote patients’ health. The center offers these services to patients to reduce existing barriers, such as access to care, transportation issues, finances, or lack of insurance.

“A majority of our patients are uninsured and represent underserved populations in the Greater Houston area,” said Tulsi Patel, RDH, MHA, director of health promotion. “During our screening process, it’s common for us to identify one or more uncontrolled systemic conditions. This allows us to educate the patient on the oral-systemic link and the importance of controlling risk factors for optimized treatment outcomes.”

The CHP is also helping to identify patients at high risk for developing obesity, sleep-related breathing disorders, and even melanoma.

“A significant number of our patients also have uncontrolled hypertension and diabetes with accompanying dry mouth,” says Tulsi Patel. “Screening and providing appropriate in-house referrals for these conditions allows us to help our patients better manage disease and promote health. The CHP also provides counseling services for tobacco cessation, HPV vaccination, genetics, and nutrition.”

In the future, services for depression, anxiety, domestic violence, and other behavioral concerns of patients will be provided.

“New collaborations with other UTHealth Houston schools are being planned and executed to help fulfill these goals in alignment with the School of Dentistry’s vision, ‘Improving oral health, improving overall health,’ and I think we’re putting those words into practice through the CHP,” said Shalizeh Patel.

The CHP currently operates on Monday afternoons and Thursday mornings. Starting in the summer, it will be open all day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, with a morning-only schedule for Fridays.

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