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SDM awarded $900,000 for community-based HIV/AIDS program

Partnership with Holyoke Health Center helps patients in western Massachusetts

The HIV/AIDS Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently awarded the School of Dental Medicine and Holyoke Health Center (HHC) a $900,000 grant to implement an oral health program for patients with HIV and AIDS in western Massachusetts.

The Community-Based Dental Partnership Program grant of $300,000 a year for three years will help SDM and HHC deliver clinical services to unserved and underserved patients with HIV/AIDS. The project, Salud Oral: Partnership for a Healthier Hampden County, will unite SDM expertise in providing community-based dental education and HHC experience in providing comprehensive health care to vulnerable populations. The grant also supports three part-time staff.

“Western Massachusetts has been hit hard by the HIV epidemic, and Holyoke has the fastest-growing rate of locally transmitted HIV in Massachusetts,” says Michelle Henshaw, an SDM associate professor of health policy and health services research, director of the Division of Community Health Programs, and principal investigator of the grant. “This project will improve access to dental care for people with HIV and AIDS while developing a future dental workforce that will be better prepared to provide care to people with HIV.”

The program aims to increase the number of dental providers capable of managing the oral health needs of patients with HIV through community-based education. “We want the students to gain an understanding of the importance of community dentistry,” Henshaw says, “and be more sensitized to providing care to HIV patients, who often have complex medical histories.”

The goals of the program also include an effort to increase access to oral health care for patients with HIV in underserved areas, especially in communities without dental education programs. “Although oral health is integral into overall health, HIV or AIDS patients may have so many health issues that they may not perceive oral health as a priority” says Henshaw. “And so we are partnering with local HIV service organizations to raise awareness of the importance of oral health.”

At SDM, the team responsible for the program includes Henshaw; Madalyn Mann, an associate professor of general dentistry and director of the Office of Extramural Affairs; Wanda Wright, an assistant professor of health policy and health services research; Ana Karina Mascarenhas, an associate professor of health policy and health services research and director of the Dental Public Health Program; and Dawn West, a clinical assistant professor and director of General Practice Residency at Boston Medical Center.