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Author visits with CCCC Dental Hygiene students

Click to enlarge,  Mary Otto, who serves as the oral health topic leader for the Association of Health Care Journalists and is author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America," speaks with Community Dental Health class students at Central Carolina Community College.

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Mary Otto, who serves as the oral health topic leader for the Association of Health Care Journalists ... (more)

01.04.2019College & CommunityCollege GeneralCurriculum Programs

SANFORD - A nationally renowned, award-winning author visited Central Carolina Community College on a Friday morning in December, but she didn't speak in the civic center auditorium and it wasn't even about her book. Mary Otto came to discuss social policy with a small group of Dental Hygiene students -- and to search for solutions.

Otto spent eight years covering health care and poverty for The Washington Post, and now works as a freelance journalist still based in the nation's capital. She serves as the oral health topic leader for the Association of Health Care Journalists and is author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America."

Her book has received accolades from publications nationwide, including a coveted spot among NPR's list of the best books published in 2017. "She makes what could have been a turgid health policy tome spark with outrage over the stories of people who have suffered," the review says, "including Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old Maryland boy who died from an infection caused by one neglected tooth."

But after a brief introduction, Otto pulled up a rolling chair, sat down in front of the room and began by saying, "Let's just chat."

For more than an hour, Otto answered questions and sorted through issues with 18 second-year students. It began with what led Otto to become a champion for disadvantaged people who don't have access to dental care, but quickly shifted to nuances of social policy and dental care. It was a vibrant, give-and-take with students discussing their own research and asking the expert for her insight and suggestions.

Much of the discussion focused on how to get physicians and policy leaders to view oral health as part of people's overall well-being. "It's a big thing in our national healthcare system," Otto said after the roundtable ended. "Our system has been fragmented for generations and oral health belongs with the rest of the healthcare system. But integrating it is going to be challenging. There are a lot of institutional barriers, not just for patients but for professionals.

"They speak different languages. They're educated in different schools. Even the patient records are not easily integrated; our dental coding is different from medical coding. So, there are lots of ways that oral health can get lost in the translation -- for professionals as well as for patients."

The roundtable was arranged by CCCC Dental Hygiene Clinical Coordinator Danielle Bruner for her students in Community Dental Health, an advanced class designed to help Dental Hygiene students develop and offer initiatives that improve oral health for people across the entire community.

Bruner planned the roundtable so students could learn from Otto's experience researching and writing the book. But the author's passion and interest in the next generation of dental hygiene providers made an unexpected impact on everyone in the room. "It will be a fond memory of mine, as a dental hygiene educator," Bruner said. "And the students left inspired to continue their passion for helping improve oral and overall health."

For more information about Central Carolina Community College, visit the college website at www.cccc.edu.