William V. Giannobile, the dean of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, lauded the school’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, said he hopes to strengthen efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the HSDM student body, and discussed the impact of Covid-19 on oral health care in a Monday interview.
The Dental School’s active engagement in clinical care and small class size have lent themselves well to in-person learning throughout the course of the pandemic, according to Giannobile. The school hosted third and fourth-year dental students in-person for pre-clinical and limited clinical education beginning July 6, 2020, with a full campus return in January 2021.
Giannobile, who started as dean of HSDM in September 2020, also noted that HSDM has maintained a “very good track record” of Covid-19 cases since its on-campus reopening, and commended the Dental School’s use of contact tracing and adherence to public health guidelines.
Giannobile said that, as the school regroups following the pandemic, he hopes to prioritize action on diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Among those priorities is the Dental School’s ongoing search for a new dean for diversity, inclusion, and belonging, as well as expanding that role, according to Giannobile.
In January, the Dental School also established a new student scholarship called the Freeman, Grant, Franklin Scholarship to support underrepresented students in dentistry.
The scholarship was named after three African-American HSDM alumni: Robert Tanner Freeman, the first African-American in the U.S. to graduate from a dental school; George Franklin Grant, the first African-American faculty member at Harvard; and Dolores Mercedes Franklin, the first African-American woman to graduate from HSDM.
The scholarship was funded by a $210,000 gift from Colgate-Palmolive Company in January.
The school is also focusing on admissions efforts targeting potential African-American and Latinx students.
This year, the dental school’s class is 69 percent women and 31 percent men; one-third of students are from backgrounds that are underrepresented in dentistry.
“This year is our most diverse class,” he asserted.
Giannobile also highlighted the impact of Covid-19 on dental care at Harvard and Cambridge.
When Giannobile was first appointed Dean of HSDM, Harvard Dental Service — which is managed by Harvard University Health Services — had announced its closing due to financial pressures exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
During the pandemic, Giannobile sought to reopen the clinic to ensure that those needing dental health care could receive care. The Dental School acquired the clinic from HUHS and reopened it as the Harvard Dental Center in February.
Giannobile said that fears surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic have led to delays in dental care among the general population and a consequent exacerbation of oral health problems.
“There’s such a fear that we understand that we’ve all had with the pandemic and Covid infection, and people have really been so cautious that many urgent medical needs have not been addressed,” he said.
To address this concern, Giannobile said the Dental School hopes to promote a “closer integration” between medicine and dentistry.
“The head is connected to the rest of the body,” he said. “And there’s so many aspects of oral health that affect whole body health.”
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