Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Raul Garcia is first dentist to be appointed to the Advisory Committee on Minority Health

Dr. Raul Garcia, professor and chair of the Department of Health Policy & Health Services Research and director of the Northeast Center for Research to Evaluate and Eliminate Dental Disparities (CREEDD) at the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM), has become the first dentist to be appointed to the Advisory Committee on Minority Health (ACMH), a national committee that advises the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“I know I speak for the entire GSDM community when I extend my warmest congratulations to Dr. Garcia on this prestigious appointment,” said Dean Jeffrey W. Hutter. “It truly is wonderful to see faculty like Dr. Garcia receiving such a deserved position.”

The ACMH was established by statutes of the Health Professions Education Partnerships Act of of 1998, P.L. 105-392, as amended by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148) and focuses on strategies to improve the health of racial and ethnic minority populations through the development of health policies and programs that will help eliminate health disparities.

The ACMH has 12 voting members who are appointed by the Secretary for Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These voting members must have expertise regarding issues of minority health. Racial and ethnic minority groups are equally represented in the committee membership.

Garcia said his appointment reflects an increasing recognition that oral health is an important component of overall health.

“Sadly, communities that are of racial and ethnic minority backgrounds tend to have worse oral health and worse disparities in their oral health outcomes and access to care,” Garcia said.

“The importance of oral health—in particular, in minority populations—is something that’s increasingly recognized, so the idea of having a dentist member of this committee fits that overall [theme].”

During his four-year term on the committee, Garcia would like to keep oral health at the forefront of the discussion.

“I hope to ensure that in all conversations, that in all programs and in all deliberations, oral health is kept paramount in peoples’ minds,” Garcia said.

“I would hope that oral health is included in all health policies that are being discussed, [and] that oral health programs or components of programs include an oral health care activity.”

Garcia said that being appointed is not only an honor—It’s an opportunity to expand his knowledge.

“I feel like I can learn a lot from this group of leaders from around the country who focus on health and minority issues,” he said. “So I think as much as I hope to give to the committee’s efforts…I feel like I can also gain a lot myself, both individually and professionally…that I can bring back to BU and GSDM.”

Garcia received his BA, DMD, CAGS (periodontology), and MMSc from Harvard University. Joining the GSDM faculty in September 1996, his work focuses on dental public health as he conducts research in community settings to better understand the risk factors for oral disease and to identify ways to reduce disease, improve health and eliminate disparities among traditionally under-served populations.

While he started his career conducting research in periodontology, Garcia later became interested in the reasons why some people were more susceptible to disease—and then, the populations and communities that they came from.

“It wasn’t just a matter of bacteria around teeth,” he said. “It was something about that person—their medical conditions, their metabolism, whether they smoked or not—that put them at a higher risk of dental disease….and then those risk factors didn’t really act in isolation in a person. They were reflective of community issues such as economic disadvantages, health literacy issues….and so I became much more interested in the social determinist of oral health and disease, and that became sort of the dominant thread in my research efforts.”