Before moving to Boston to start the Doctor of Dental Medicine Advanced Standing program (DMD AS) at Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM), Olayinka Adekugbe DMD AS 22 completed a dental public health residency at the University of Iowa in Iowa City—where she found that many African immigrants and refugees enrolled in Medicaid and living in Iowa were unaware that there was a dental wellness plan included in their health insurance.
“Quite a number of them didn’t even know that they were entitled to get the [dental] wellness plan,” Adekugbe said. “Maybe they were not aware, or they just weren’t sure how to access healthcare in general.”
Adekugbe, a student at the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM), created the Oral Health Program Project, which aims to make oral health care accessible to immigrants. She recently received a $25,000 grant from Delta Dental of Iowa to continue growing her organization.
“Iowa nonprofits stepped up to provide increased health care access and wellness education, covering gaps further widened by the economic constraints of the pandemic, especially for vulnerable populations,” said Suzanne Heckenlaible, executive director for Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation. “The funding that Dr. Adekugbe received was used to support oral health education for African immigrants in the Iowa City area. Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation is proud to support this work to provide critical services to Iowans in need.”
The organization currently works to raise awareness and to connect the African population in Iowa to oral healthcare services available to them.
“The healthcare system in America can be quite complex,” Adekugbe said. “Having to navigate this, to get into the health system, sometimes you get tired.” Adekugbe’s organization helps immigrants navigate the system and access the dental services they are eligible for.
The organization has also worked to provide materials in different languages, including French and Swahili, with Arabic materials in the works.
“The African immigrant population is quite diverse,” Adekugbe said. “They speak French, they speak Swahili, they speak Arabic. I felt language was a barrier, so it was also creating language-appropriate oral health education that we could use with the different language groups.”
“They have the healthcare education in their own language, not just in English. It makes it more comfortable,” Adekugbe said.
Adekugbe said that the next step for the organization is oral health screenings—and she hopes that someday the organization will grow into a community dental health center.
“People want services,” Adekugbe said. “Maybe in the future, we will need to have a community dental center, where we can provide those services.”
Adekugbe, who also has a master’s degree in public health from New York University and a master of science in dental public health from the University of Iowa and has worked with Save the Children and USAID, said that her time at GSDM has strengthened her clinical dentistry skills while transforming the way that she thinks about this project.
“I think wearing the clinical hat with the public health hat makes a better blend than when I was just a public health practitioner,” Adekugbe said. “Having that blend—everything coming together into one single piece—is really very nice.”
Oral Health Program Project has also provided Adekugbe with another role—as a mentor.
“It’s given me an opportunity to mentor young Africans in Iowa,” Adekugbe said. “Many of them are from war-torn countries. Sometimes just seeing that ‘okay, she’s African, she’s like us, she’s a woman,’ could be something more.”