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Spring 2022
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Giving North Carolinians Something to Smile About

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The Dental Public Health Initiative in Teaching, Research, and Practice addresses oral health care problems that plague millions of North Carolinians.

Due in large part to lack of access to preventive oral health care and treatment, millions of people suffer every day from pain caused by dental disease. Poor oral health is also linked to chronic diseases and to poor health overall. Increasing the focus on public health in dentistry promises improvements to health statewide.

Premier scholarship will train tomorrow’s dental public health workforce

Epidemiology alumni Martha Ann Keels, DDS, PhD '91, and Dennis Clements, MD, PhD '91, have made a $1.25 million pledge to endow a premier fellowship to fully cover tuition, fees and other expenses for students who are interested in pediatric dentistry to obtain a public health degree. Students will be Adams School of Dentistry students who then can come to Gillings and study in any of the School’s departments. 

Martha Ann Keels (DDS ‘84, PhD ’91) and Dennis Clements (MPH ’88, PhD ’90).

“My experience at Gillings opened up the doors to my career, and I am still doing research and treating patients through collaborations that all tie back to there,” says Keels, a pediatric dentist who has been affiliated with Duke Children’s Hospital for more than 30 years. “I’m so grateful for my experience, and I think one of the ways you can thank your teachers is to give them great students to teach — that’s what we’re doing with this fellowship. We’re giving thanks backward by paying it forward.”

Clements and Keels — who first met in graduate school at Gillings while she was a teaching assistant in one of his epidemiology courses, kept in touch and got married about five years later — are longtime collaborators both in life and in dental public health. The couple travels to Honduras — often with students from both Duke and UNC — to provide medical and dental care for children on the island of Roatán. 

“The biggest infectious disease problem is oral disease, and in a lot of countries, the only solution is to pull a tooth,” says Clements, a pediatrician and professor at Duke University, where he is interim director of the Duke Global Health Institute. “It’s worth trying to do something about it — that’s why we want to support and encourage people who want to do this kind of work.”

Improving access, honoring a trailblazer

The Gillings School is launching the Dental Public Health Initiative in Teaching, Research, and Practice — which will combine cutting-edge classroom instruction with industry-leading, evidence-based research on prevention and clinical and policy solutions to the state’s most pressing problems in oral health care. Recent major gifts from friends and alumni will strengthen the Gillings School’s partnership with the UNC Adams School of Dentistry as the two schools work to train tomorrow’s dental public health workforce and reduce dental health disparities.

For Bill Milner, DDS, MPH ’84 (health policy and management), and his wife Susan, supporting oral public health at Gillings is a natural extension of Bill’s work to improve access to dental care for those who do not have access to traditional dental clinics. He is the founder of Access Dental Care, a nonprofit, mobile onsite provider that for more than 20 years has brought comprehensive dental services to residents in retirement communities, nursing homes, group homes and other facilities. Access Dental Care serves patients in 33 counties.

Longtime supporters of the School, the Milners recently designated a substantial amount of their estate to fund a professorship in dental public health to help build a more robust educational program on the importance of dental care, particularly for marginalized or underserved communities.

“This gift is an opportunity for us to help continue the oral health program within Gillings, and hopefully to leverage our gift and convince others with an interest in dental public health to give as well, so that we can continue to build on the positive programs that Gillings has and has always had."

— Bill Milner, DDS, MPH

“This gift is an opportunity for us to help continue the oral health program within Gillings, and hopefully to leverage our gift and convince others with an interest in dental public health to give as well, so that we can continue to build on the positive programs that Gillings has and has always had,” Bill Milner says. 

Ross Vaughan, MD, retired neonatologist and professor of pediatrics, is supporting the program in honor of his late wife Bettie R. McKaig, DDS, MPH ’84 (health policy and management), a trailblazer in her field. She earned a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, a dental degree and a master of public health — all from Carolina. Bettie’s background in public health and the couple’s friendship with Leah McCall Devlin, DDS, MPH ’84 (health policy and management), a professor who is helping to lead the Dental Public Health Initiative in Teaching, Research, and Practice (DPHI), helped inspire the gift.

“She believed strongly in the University that made her life and career,” Vaughan says, “so I want to support future generations in her honor.” 

For more information about opportunities to support the Gillings School’s oral health program, please contact Matt Cain at giving.sph@unc.edu and 919-966-0198.

Reaching a milestone

Regular gifts from generous members of our community go a long way. In fact, they helped UNC achieve a historic milestone that saw $4.25 billion raised during the Campaign for Carolina. 

Annual giving provides crucial support for public health research, education and practice at the Gillings School. Contact giving.sph@unc.edu to learn more.