Summit will highlight oral health issues facing rural areas

The struggles rural communities face when it comes to their oral health will be the subject of a daylong summit hosted by Campbell’s Public Health department on Feb. 10. 

The first Rural Oral Health Summit will feature professionals from North Carolina, Louisiana, West Virginia and Alaska speaking on the integration of primary care and oral health, prevention, school-based oral health, community-integrated oral health and more. Mary Otto, author of “Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America” will serve as the keynote speaker.

The Summit is part of Campbell’s ongoing commitment to rural communities. Last fall, the University received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fund an 18-month national exploration — the Rural Philanthropic Analysis — a project designed to better understand rural places and funding practices that are leading the way towards health improvement in rural regions across the country. The University also took part in National Rural Health Day in November.

David Tillman, chair of Campbell’s public health department, said the Summit is important to raise awareness, as people tend to underestimate the impact of oral health often perceiving it as a simple matter of personal hygiene.

“The upsetting reality is that rural places experience significant disparities as it relates to oral health access and oral health outcomes,” he said. “The good news is that there are innovators throughout our state and country who are working to increase oral health equity in rural places.  

“We look forward to bringing those people together to share strategies for improving rural oral health.”

Otto, the oral health topic leader for the Association of Health Care Journalists, began writing about oral health at the Washington Post, where she worked for eight years covering social issues including health care and poverty. Her book, “Teeth,” takes readers on a disturbing journey into America’s silent epidemic of oral disease, exposing the hidden connections between tooth decay and stunted job prospects, low educational achievement, social mobility and the troubling state of our public health.

Maggie Sauer, director of the state’s Office of Rural Health, will begin the Summit by sharing information about the significance of rural health in North Carolina.

The Rural Oral Health Summit will be held from 8 a.m to 5 p.m. at Campbell’s Health Sciences Campus. For more information or to register, visit