Ann Slaughter, D.D.S., M.P.H.: Profile
"Elders inspire me to continue to do what I do," said Dr. Ann Slaughter, geriatric dentistry specialist and assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Her parents each had a scientific background, and throughout childhood she enjoyed spending time with her grandmother and her friends, "so choosing public health seemed natural for me."
Education and clinical dentistry set the pace during her early career, until she was encouraged to apply for the Brookdale National Fellowship Program, a national endowment that funded aging research. "They heard my ideas and decided to give dentistry a chance," said Dr. Slaughter. She spent two years working at the University of Connecticut's Travelers Center on Aging, where she interacted with elderly patients in community settings and collaborated with other medical professionals as part of the program's interdisciplinary training.
Today through her work at the university, Dr. Slaughter is developing an educational program, "Take Charge of Your Oral Health," which will be delivered to African American senior citizens in urban community centers. "We need to raise public awareness about oral signs and symptoms so African American elders will know when they need to go to dentists," said Dr. Slaughter.
"We are developing a program that's culturally sensitive. We are talking on their terms and using their language," she said. "We're also promoting an intergenerational theme, hoping the elders will provide the messages to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We need to plant the seeds for the future and change oral health beliefs as the children grow up."
Elder patients, she said, must be approached differently because of past perceptions. "I have had to work very hard and diligently to establish trusting relationships within the community," she said. "When these elders were young, dental care didn't focus much on prevention. They've always associated going to the dentist with the fear of getting their teeth pulled. So there are filters over the issue of trust. I had to earn it from them. And that was a challenge."
While addicted to her work, Dr. Slaughter relaxes once in a while by taking in a classic Humphrey Bogart black and white movie or reading a suspense novel by Richard Patterson. "These are the types of relaxation activities that I enjoy," she said.
Though passionate about all aspects of her field, she's most proud that her geriatric research was recently featured in Jet magazine. "Perseverance is the key. Just keep moving," she shared as her words to live by. "I plan to continue building on what I've got, and I hope to make a contribution to reduce health care disparities."
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