A Center for Global and Community Oral Health

The Center for Global and Community Oral Health was officially launched in September 2023 with a lecture event. From left to right: Event speakers were Brij B. Singh, PhD; Yvonne De Paiva Buischi, DDS, PhD; Peter M. Loomer, DDS, PhD, MBA; and Juanita Lozano-Pineda, DDS, MPH.

Programs within the School of Dentistry that provide insight to oral diseases by generating data that can be applied globally now fall within the school’s new Center for Global and Community Oral Health, which officially launched in September 2023. The new center was established to bring dental clinicians, educators, learners and investigators together to address the unmet oral health needs of underserved communities locally, nationally and internationally.

“The idea is to move these programs and research from being investigator-based to operate as a center of excellence,” said Brij B. Singh, PhD, associate dean of research. “We are bringing together diverse expertise, under one umbrella, to focus on minority health and improving overall health globally. We have programs right now that only have the capacity to provide outreach services to certain groups. We can now better organize our team to take information generated from those services and conduct the research,” Singh added.


One project Singh looks forward to working on within the new center is examining the oral needs of the Hispanic community. This is of particular interest for the population of South Texas, which is already reported to be more than 62% Hispanic. One key focus for Singh will be what is known as the “Hispanic conundrum” or the “Hispanic paradox.”

The term refers to a puzzling epidemiological finding that many Hispanic Americans tend to outlive non-Hispanic white Americans by several years. And, this occurs despite Hispanics tending to have a higher incidence of diabetes and heart and kidney diseases. Moreover, in their senior years, Hispanic Americans still exhibit a better quality of life, such as better mental health and the ability to walk properly, according to Singh.

“Come 20 years down the road, this country will be minority majority,” he said. “How can Hispanics survive so many of these health issues while other ethnicities can’t? These are questions we can help add knowledge to. Oral health is the gateway to overall health.”


With the research and programming of 15 dental principal investigators founding the center’s establishment, Singh anticipates they will provide the school a competitive advantage when it comes to applying for funding.

“The collaboration and partnerships each expert brings to the table will drive our research,” Singh said. “The information we will together be able to produce will, we believe, improve global health outcomes.”

Research programs with global impact

Among the research programs of the new Center for Global and Community Oral Health:

CARIOLOGY. Cariology researcher Bennett Amaechi, BDS, PhD, notes dental caries, known as tooth decay, affects from 60% to 90% of school-aged children and nearly 100% of adults worldwide. Ongoing research explores dental erosion, hypersensitivity, early caries detection and tooth biofilm. Clinical trials assess new products such as toothpaste, mouth rinses and dental materials for decay prevention and reversal.

DIABETES. The International Diabetes Foundation estimates that one in 10 individuals worldwide has diabetes, with projections reaching 643 million by 2030 — nearly double the current U.S. population of 335 million. In Bexar County, where nearly 12% of the population grapples with diabetes, local and global research prioritizes this critical field. Diabetes-related oral complications include dry mouth, cavities, gum disease, tooth loss and fungal infections such as candidiasis.

DENTAL AND CRANIOFACIAL DEVELOPMENT. Researchers investigate bone, dentin, enamel and periodontium formation using transgenic mice and innovative cell models. Through epigenetic regulation and gene expression analysis, scientists aim to develop therapeutic solutions for bone loss and periodontal disease. They also seek to identify gene mutations related to oligodontia, a condition where multiple teeth are missing.

DRY MOUTH AND SALIVARY GLAND DYSFUNCTION. Dry mouth, or xerostomia, impacts 25% of women and 20% of men ages 18 to 88, with higher occurrence as age rises. Often a side effect of medications or conditions such as Sjogren’s syndrome, dental researchers aim to combat dryness by stimulating saliva production or targeting underlying systemic disease causes.

PRACTICE- AND COMMUNITY-BASED RESEARCH. Practice-based research networks (PBRNs) accelerate the conversion of research into clinical practice. The School of Dentistry’s national and regional PBRNs engage member practitioners in real-world investigations, from study development to in-office data collection. These networks gather vital evidence to improve oral disease prevention and treatment, with upcoming studies covering various topics, including symptoms of cracked teeth, occlusal caries detection, dentin hypersensitivity management, oral HPV risk factors, single-unit crown success, oral cancer knowledge and molar-incisor hypomineralization.

For a full list of research areas and clinical trials at the School of Dentistry, visit uthscsa.edu/dental/research.

Global and community outreach

In addition to the School of Dentistry’s East Africa Oral Health Initiative, here is a sampling of other outreach programs of the new Center for Global and Community Oral Health:

HOLISTIC ORAL HEALTH PROGRAM FOR ELDERS (HOPE). A team of dental professionals uses advanced mobile equipment to provide compassionate care to nursing home residents within a 65-mile radius of UT Health San Antonio. It enhances oral and systemic health for senior residents by increasing access to care and offering oral health education to residents and staff. HOPE improves oral health, pain and disease management and promotes overall well-being among low-income nursing home patients through evidence-based care and education.

PEDIATRIC DENTAL CLINIC AT THE RICARDO SALINAS HEALTH CENTER. A low-cost dental clinic treats over 3,500 children each year from uninsured, low-income and undocumented families residing throughout San Antonio. Staffed by School of Dentistry students, residents, board-certified faculty and bilingual staff, the team sees children and youth up to 17 years of age, providing high-quality, comprehensive and emergency oral health care. The clinic is a partnership between the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District and the UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry.

PHIL AND KAREN HUNKE SPECIAL CARE CLINIC. The dental needs of adults and children with medical complexities including cognitive and physical disabilities will be met in this new UT Dentistry clinic, designed especially for those with special needs. The specialty practice has seven rooms for general dental care plus five sedation suites and will offer interdisciplinary educational opportunities for students and residents. Area dentists can refer patients needing this difficult-to-find special care and attention.

SAN ANTONIO REFUGEE HEALTH CLINIC. A collaborative effort involving students from various health professions and experienced faculty at UT Health Science Center San Antonio serves over 1,300 immigrant refugees in northwest San Antonio. It offers primary care, mental health, dental care and physical therapy services every week. The clinic provides a trusted space for refugees to access health care and social support while fostering education and collaboration between patients and students.

For a full list of School of Dentistry outreach programs, visit uthscsa.edu/dental/student-success/outreach.

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In the 2023 issue of Salute

Salute is the official magazine for the alumni and friends of the School of Dentistry at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Read and share inspiring stories highlighting our dental alumni, faculty and students who are revolutionizing education, research, patient care and critical services in the communities they serve.

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