Dennis Mitchell, D.D.S., M.P.H.: Profile
When Dr. Dennis Mitchell goes home each night from Columbia University, he teaches his daughter how to brush her baby teeth. One-year-old Danielle and wife, Bridgette, are one part of a life he calls "truly blessed." The rest of his blessed life comes from the powerful impact he's made during his tenure at the university's school of dental and oral surgery.
Growing up in Toronto, Canada, then going to Harlem to practice dentistry with his uncle was quite an awakening experience. "In Harlem you see the disparities in health every day. It set me back quite a bit." To address these disparities, he said, "we need to get rid of existing diseases that come from the past, as well as prevent diseases of the future. A lot can be done with children three to four years old. They need to understand that it is a regular routine to see the dentist two times a year."
Through his work at Columbia, Dr. Mitchell has helped establish a community-based dental service program that treats more than 25,000 patients a year, a Mobile Dental Center that provides service to children in 40 Head Start and day care centers, and a $2.5 million state-of-the-art elderly-focused medical and dental practice in central Harlem. And he was only 34 when he started doing this.
Dr. Mitchell is a strong proponent of sealants for inner-city children, who typically do not have access to this type of prevention. He was hoping to address this need through the mobile units and school-based clinics, until he saw the poor condition of many of the children's mouths. "We couldn't do just preventive medicine because we're too far behind. We had to implement new protocols of scaling and cleaning, and convert our clinics to full-service
treatment centers for children."
"I am blessed to be able to be a leader in all of this," said Dr. Mitchell. "To be able to start programs, open facilities, provide access to care for people who didn't have access before, change children's lives, develop a mobile vehicle program. The things that I do make a difference in lives every day."
While he has a warm spot for his dental alma matter, Howard University, Dr. Mitchell said, "I'm not done
with New York yet. I'd like to someday see public health dentistry at the forefront of dentistry. There are so many unsung heroes doing good work in the field."
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