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Dr. Shenkin is first ADA trustee to receive Fulbright Specialist Program grant

January 12, 2015

By Kelly Soderlund

Dr. Shenkin
A Shenkin hadn't set foot on Belarussian soil in more than 120 years.

The Shenkins left Minsk for the United States and it wouldn't be for generations to come that Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, ADA first vice president, would break the streak. Dr. Shenkin's family left Belarus seeking a better life, but he would return seeking to make life better for Belarusians.  

Dr. Shenkin, clinical associate professor of health policy, health services research and pediatric dentistry at Boston University, received confirmation Jan. 7 from the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Department of State and the Council for International Exchange of Scholars that he was selected for a Fulbright Specialist Program grant in public/global health at Belarusian State Medical University. He will develop strategies and curriculum for Belarusian State dental faculty on how to train pediatricians in Belarus about the oral health of young children ages 6 months to 3 years.

"Dr. Shenkin is the first ADA trustee to receive this honor, and we are very proud of him for sharing his knowledge and expertise with the physicians, dentists and people of Belarus," said ADA President Maxine Feinberg. "This prestigious honor demonstrates Dr. Shenkin's ongoing global commitment to improving the oral health not just in America but in the world."

The Fulbright Specialist Program promotes linkages between U.S. scholars and professionals and their counterparts at host institutions oversees, according to the Council for International Exchange of Scholars' website. Dr. Shenkin will travel to Belarus this spring for two weeks to help the dental faculty to develop a training seminar for pediatricians to conduct oral exams and improve the health literacy of their patient populations.

"Belarus has a state-funded dental system where all care for children is provided in clinics for free," Dr. Shenkin said. "They recognize that they have an increasing level of dental decay in kids but they already have enough dentists and enough drills to fill teeth. They want to prevent disease from happening beforehand, which has been my mantra in the United States for years. I hope this project bridges a common divide between dentists and physicians that exists worldwide."

Part of Dr. Shenkin's grant also includes educating physicians on how they can encourage their patients to purchase fluoridated salt. Instead of fluoridating their water, which is how many U.S. cities deliver fluoride to residents, Belarus fluoridates its salt and makes it available for purchase.

"We are going to try to educate physicians about oral health and the need to educate their patients about specific behaviors that they're not doing," Dr. Shenkin said.

One of the challenges in Belarus, as in many countries, is that many children under age 3 only see a dentist when they are in pain, leading to an increase in dental caries. The seminars Dr. Shenkin will develop will help pediatricians understand oral health behaviors that result in health outcomes; clinical skills to identify early signs of disease; placement of fluoride varnish to reduce disease risk; and educational tools to promote oral health in children. The training will also help physicians understand the importance of setting up a dental home for their patients.