Go Matsuo, a dentist now practicing in Nagasaki, Japan, will receive a Leverett Graduate Student Merit Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dental Public Health from the American Association of Public Health Dentistry (AAPHD).
Matsuo will accept the Leverett Award on April 27 at the National Oral Health Conference in Kansas City. The AAPHD recognizes three projects each year in a national competition among students in dental public health graduate programs.
During the conference, Matsuo will present a paper titled, “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Dental Caries Experience among Kindergarten Students in North Carolina.”
Matsuo conducted the award-winning research for the paper while enrolled in the N.C. Dental Public Health Residency Program, which is offered in collaboration by the Oral Health Section of the N.C. Division of Public Health and the Department of Health Policy and Management at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health.
The program offers one year of specialized professional training for dentists who have already completed a Master of Public Health degree, qualifying them for board certification in Dental Public Health.
Matsuo’s paper reports findings from clinical assessments for dental caries (tooth decay) in more than 80,000 kindergarten students at more than 1,000 schools. From 2009 to 2010, the year of the study, the N.C. Oral Health Surveillance System provided race and ethnicity for each kindergarten student in the state for the first time.
More than half of Hispanic students (52 percent) had experienced dental caries by the time they started public school, compared to 39 percent of African-American students and 30 percent of white students.
The majority of African-American and Hispanic students attend low-income schools (with more than 75 percent student participation in the National School Lunch Program), where students are at higher risk for poor dental health outcomes.
Further, Matsuo found that dental caries disparities between African-American and white students are accentuated in non-poor schools.
Since the Leverett Award was first presented in the early 1990s, almost two-dozen dental public health residents in the Oral Health Section program and students in the health policy and management department at the Gillings School have received the award.
This summer, the Dental Public Health residency program will have its 50-year anniversary. The Gillings School will celebrate its 75-year anniversary later this month.
Gary Rozier, research professor of health policy and management at the Gillings School, was a co-author on the paper. Matsuo’s award announcement caused Rozier to contemplate the long history of public health collaborations in North Carolina.
“The collaboration in public health dentistry began in 1934, when the school was in its formative stages,” he said. “In that year, the Division of Public Health at the School of Medicine offered an intensive six-week course in public health for dentists who provided oral health services to children in North Carolina schools. Formal courses in dental public health began in 1957 and specialty training began in 1965, in collaboration with the state health department, through a grant from the U.S. Public Health Service.”
Rozier added, “These two anniversary milestones provide occasion for us to reflect on the strong collaborations that have made the Gillings School a leader in educating public health professionals.”