Shaping the Nation’s Smiles
NIDCR Fellows Strive to Improve Oral Health for All
As practicing dentists, Dr. Ishita Singh and Dr. Leah Leinbach have seen smiles in all shapes. From caring for children with special needs to treating oral infections in patients preparing for invasive heart surgeries, they’re experts at tackling oral health problems. Given their holistic views of patient care, both dentists recognized issues outside of the mouth that made their patients vulnerable to oral diseases. These observations, and their desire to address oral health challenges on a community level, led them to join the newly expanded Dental Public Health Research Fellowship program at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR).
Singh, who is originally from India and most recently worked as an oral health researcher in Utah, noticed that factors such as socioeconomic status, gender, race and ethnicity and environmental toxins weighed on the oral health of her patients.
Leinbach, who previously provided hospital-based oral health care at two large academic medical centers, realized that financial barriers and limited access to oral health information made it difficult for many of her patients to be truly healthy.
“So I thought there was an opportunity to tackle the problems from a different perspective—through dental public health,” she said.
Rather than treating individual patients, dental public health practitioners focus on preventing oral diseases and promoting oral health in communities. Strategies include surveillance, research, public health education campaigns, policy development and dental care programs.
As the inaugural cohort of the revamped NIDCR program, the two dentist-scientists will learn how to tackle system-wide challenges faced by their patients. The three-year fellowship is designed to equip dental professionals with the knowledge and skills to carry out population-level research aimed at improving the oral health and well-being of individuals, families and communities.
As part of their training, Singh and Leinbach will work within public health organizations to gain practical experience in community-level research and program implementation. In addition to research skills, NIDCR offers networking opportunities and communication and leadership training.
A few months into the program, the fellows are already benefiting from NIDCR’s resources and are excited about their prospects.
“We received training on how to do a literature search one week into the program and that’s something I was never formally taught but was often expected to know,” said Singh. “There is an immense potential of expanding your knowledge and skillset. You’re at a place where you can truly make an impact.”
Singh, who seeks to reduce oral health disparities, wants to better serve patients from groups that have been socially marginalized, such as those with special needs and those from the LGBTQ+ community.
Leinbach is especially interested in integrating oral health care with the broader health care system through policy and management.
“The environment and people are really important for career growth, and we’re surrounded by the best at NIDCR,” Leinbach said. “It’s really an honor to be here to help shape the future of oral health and health in general.”
Interested in applying to the fellowship program? NIDCR is accepting applications through Dec. 15. Visit: https://bit.ly/3TOu15D.