The UCLA School of Dentistry has received a $1.5 million grant from the state’s largest dental benefits provider, Delta Dental of California, to support launching a community-based clinical education program. The award, which will support UCLA student dentists to care for some of the most vulnerable patients in California, is the largest that Delta Dental has ever given a dental school.

Many Californians face inadequate access to oral health care services for many reasons. The biggest challenges are the uneven distribution of providers, underfunded public health programs, lack of understanding of the importance of oral health and difficulty in identifying available resources.

“This funding enables the dental school and Delta Dental to have an even stronger presence in bridging the gap with access to care in California. With Delta Dental’s generous support, we can expand our treatment reach and training capacity,” said Dr. Paul Krebsbach, dean of the UCLA School of Dentistry. “Because our program continually assesses and evaluates outcomes, the funding will enhance care for today’s patients, as well as tomorrow’s patients.”

The grant enables fourth-year dental students, overseen by credentialed dental practitioners, to treat Medicaid recipients or people who struggle with access to care. Two key health care delivery models that the school will affiliate with are federally qualified health centers, which cater to underserved populations; and practices that focus on people living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

“Delta Dental is committed to broadening access to dental care for those who otherwise might go without,” said Dr. John Yamamoto, Delta Dental’s vice president of professional services. “We’re pleased to support the efforts of the community-based clinical education program at the UCLA School of Dentistry and, in doing so, the many patients and dentists who are so integral to the program.”

The funding will support start-up costs to launch the program, which includes partnering with 12 dental clinics throughout California and the creation of an online mentorship program. The program will also initiate the use of electronic health record data monitoring, which will help facilitate audits leading to improved patient care protocols.

“We hope to achieve several outcomes over the next several years. First, our goal is to graduate the highest quality dentists and also increase pathways and awareness for our graduates into public health dentistry,” said Dr. Bill Piskorowski, the program’s director and the associate dean for community-based clinical education. “Next, we hope to become a conduit of evidence-based information between experts and clinicians at remote locations, and provide data to ensure best practices in healthcare delivery methods nationwide.”

The funding will also support the further development of the program’s sustainability model, which creates an efficient, cost-effective structure for student engagement, faculty commitment and community impact.

“With Delta Dental as a partner, I am confident that we can create a robust and effective local oral health care delivery model that can be replicated in other parts of the state, nation and world,” Krebsbach said.