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Two dental schools earn ADA Foundation Zwemer awards

May 07, 2018

By Jean Williams

Group photo of University of Michigan School of Dentistry students
Going global: From left (front), Indiana University School of Dentistry students Joshua Blane, Trent Kirkwood, Julie Bertolet and Riley Castillo; (back) Matt Raskin and Marcus Thayn, in Zacatlan, Puebla, Mexico.
Two dental schools earned the ADA Foundation Zwemer awards for 2017 — Indiana University School of Dentistry for its Global Service Learning Program, and the University of Michigan School of Dentistry for its program, Global Initiatives in Oral and Craniofacial Health in Meru, Kenya.

The ADA Foundation launched the ADA Foundation Zwemer Award in 2013 to recognize and support excellence in dental school student-driven outreach programs that provide care in underserved communities outside of the U.S.

Each school received a $5,000 award.

"This award not only gives us a chance to be on the map with the ADA, in terms of the school of dentistry, but it also gives us the opportunity to show what IU is doing — not only in the community in Indianapolis, but also in communities outside of Indiana," said Dr. Armando Soto, an associate professor and director of civic engagement at IU School of Dentistry, who is faculty mentor to the students in the GSL Program.

Image of ADA Foundation logoDr. Soto described the IU student volunteer program as "robust." During the 2017 session, groups amassing 74 dental students, along with dental hygiene students, faculty and staff, worked in six locations: Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Kenya, Mexico and on the Lakota Sioux Indian reservation in South Dakota. Long-term relationships with community partners in each country provide continuity of experience and cumulative value. All treatment is supervised by licensed dentists from the US and host countries.

The University of Michigan School of Dentistry's global program serves Meru, Kenya. In 2017-18, six dental students and three dental hygiene students participated. Faculty leader Dr. Carlos Gonzalez-Cabezas cited a high level of student preparation as a unique hallmark of the program. "We meet weekly for almost 6 months preparing for the program," he said. "Another important factor in our programs is the level of importance we place on helping the community we visit."

Photo of dental and dental hygiene students performing treatment in Kenya
Preventive focus: University of Michigan dental and dental hygiene students providing oral exams and treatment at Kirigini Primary School in Meru, Kenya.
According to program organizers, the dentist-to-patient ratio in Kenya is 1:378,000. Most of this population has no access to preventive measures, such as fluoride or sealants. By aiming their efforts to a younger population, the program participants strive to improve preventive care efforts.

For the students, the charitable trips offer a number of benefits, said Megan Utter, a dental student and volunteer in the University of Michigan program.

"I think myself, and the other students, participate in the GIOCH outreach program because it gives us a way to truly apply all that we've learned throughout dental school thus far, and more importantly to apply that to a community in need," said Ms. Utter. "Our group was able to travel somewhere we may not have ventured to otherwise and see first-hand the effects that a lack of oral health education has on oral disease. We were able to directly see the benefits of our program's work over the past few years, and that's a very rewarding thing to be a part of."

For more information on the awards, visit For information about the ADA Foundation's international programs and international volunteer opportunities visit