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Improving Oral Healthcare for Latino Patients with Special Needs—An Interview with Angela Olivar

Angela Olivar and Dr. Robert Rada at El Valor

Angela Olivar (DMD-AS 4) is one of only three University of Illinois Chicago students selected for a 2023-2024 Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellowship. A program of the Health & Medicine Policy Research Group, the Schweitzer Fellowship is a year-long service learning project in which fellows design and implement programs addressing the health needs of underserved Chicago communities.

Named for the late humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, the program encourages students to become lifelong leaders in service.

In implementing her project Olivar, the foundation’s Bob and Caryle Perlman Fellow, will raise awareness about the importance of oral healthcare, providing educational sessions and addressing factors that limit Latino communities in seeking continuous oral healthcare services for special needs patients. The fellowship will provide training, mentorship and interdisciplinary collaboration.

We interviewed Olivar about her commitment to improving oral healthcare for special needs Latino communities.

Tell us about your background.

I was born and raised in Peru, where I received my dental education and graduated as a dentist. A few years later, I moved to the United States to continue with my education as an advanced standing dental student at the UIC College of Dentistry.

Why did you choose your topic?

My project will be focused on implementing an oral health education program aimed at helping adults with special needs to receive preventive dental treatment, and promoting oral health care by educational sessions. Studies have shown that adults with special needs experience more barriers to oral health care and have less access to dental care, and those in underserved racial and ethnic groups have higher levels of delayed and unmet needs for dental care. I chose it because I wanted to explore this area more, and understand better all the factors and health disparities involved.

What are the details of your project?

I will be working with my faculty mentor, Dr. Robert Rada, clinical professor, oral medicine and diagnostic sciences, on the development and implementation of my project at El Valor, a non-profit organization site that supports adults and children with special needs and their families, located in the Pilsen community of Chicago. Dental students will participate and provide preventive dental services and educational sessions to caregivers and families about oral hygiene instructions, non-cariogenic diet and frequency of regular dental visits. With this project, I will be able to address the oral health needs of vulnerable groups and reduce health disparities.

How will the College of Dentistry community benefit from this?

There is a significant need for implementing special care dentistry training and increasing the number of general dentists that are able and willing to treat adults with special needs. This will be an interesting learning experience for dental students; as health care providers it is our job to acknowledge the specific needs of these patients and ensure that future dental professionals are optimally prepared to respond to these challenges.

Tell us about what being a Schweitzer Fellow means to you.

I feel very honored and grateful for this opportunity. It is an extremely rewarding and gratifying experience to know that I can make a real impact on people’s lives—people who need this care the most. And I encourage students who are interested in getting involved with this project or initiating another one to apply for the Schweitzer Fellowship program.

Why is serving the underserved important to you?

I have always thought that it is very important to give back to the community, because working with underserved communities profoundly impacts people’s lives and is a good way to contribute to our society. Back in my country, I would participate in several volunteering programs providing care to underserved communities, seeing all the people involved behind that, who work on the development and logistics of those programs. So, I became interested in it as well.

What do you plan on doing after graduation?

After graduation, I would like to get involved and support similar projects. As dentists, there are several ways we can support underserved communities, like donating to charity, conducting a free community dental day, going on mission trips and many others. I would also like to implement special care dentistry in my own private practice.

Click links below to learn more.

El Valor:

Health & Medicine Policy Research Group Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellows Program:

Bob and Caryle Perlman Fellowship: