Spotlight on alumni: Dr. Patricia Adesanya ’14
This Center of Excellence fellow dove into her role as general dentist at a community clinic in central Texas last summer. As she prepares for her master’s research project — and ultimately, a teaching role — she shares more about the hard realities and telling rewards of practicing dentistry in the public health sector.
For patients of Dr. Patricia Adesanya ’14, the need for complete dentures comes as the biggest shock. No two patients react quite the same, she says. Many break down in tears. Others welcome the change, eager for the chance to have an improved smile. The most eye-opening part of this dialogue: A number of these patients are young adults — former drug users suffering from extensive decay.
As the general dentist at the Bastrop Community Health Center in central Texas, Adesanya spends her days navigating conversations with patients to give them the dental care and rehabilitation they need. The tone of many appointments is not as dramatic as a young person’s need for dentures; interactions often hinge on helping patients learn how to maintain good oral health.
“Since the majority of my patients are from the underserved population, I see a lot of individuals who have not been to the dentist because they cannot afford it,” says Adesanya, who began working at the Bastrop, Texas, clinic in August 2014.
Despite the fact that the clinic offers a broad range of restorative options, most patients can’t pay for expensive procedures. So in those situations, Adesanya helps them manage their dentition in the best way possible, utilizing her expertise and the clinic’s comprehensive services.
While Bastrop is growing — at a rate of just over 5 percent between 2010 and 2014 to top out at more than 78,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — it’s not immune from the challenges associated with rural communities. The patients who come to see Adesanya at the clinic lack dental insurance, which means a healthy smile can be hard to come by, and with far-reaching implications.
According to 2013 numbers from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Area Health Resources Files, the ratio of residents to dentists in Bastrop was nearly 4,000 to one, as compared with the rest of the state of Texas, with one dentist for every 1,940 residents.
Having dentists like Adesanya in the public health setting means access to care for patients who might otherwise not receive it. Adesanya alone sees approximately a dozen patients a day, with ages ranging from infants to elderly adults. She is open about the challenges associated with her career path.
“I had to learn how to not take work home with me,” says Adesanya. “The population I treat has some emotional scenarios that come with it, but working in clinics that are geared toward the underserved community is by far my favorite experience. It’s my passion.
“I have known what I wanted to do with my future in the dental profession since my first year of dental school.”
A Center of Excellence fellow at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry, Adesanya began coursework for the M.S. in Education for Healthcare Professionals while still a dental student. Career plans include practicing dentistry in clinics benefiting the underserved and, after obtaining her graduate degree in 2016, teaching part time.
“The Comprehensive Dental Faculty Development Program component of the Center of Excellence helped me to further confirm the path of dentistry that I wanted to take and helped me with resources needed to get there,” says Adesanya.
Dr. Yashashri Urankar, dental director of the Community Health Centers of South Central Texas — the nonprofit that includes the Bastrop clinic — immediately recognized Adesanya when she began working with the organization last August. Urankar also has connections to TAMBCD, both as a graduate student and faculty member.
“Patty is well suited for this field,” says Urankar. “Her compassion and professionalism are unmatched.”
Adesanya’s passion for underserved patient groups could, in turn, inspire her future students to include these populations in their own practices, says Dr. Ernie Lacy, director of the TAMBCD Center of Excellence and executive director of the Office of Student Development and Multicultural Affairs.
“The dentist who treats the underserved can see the tremendous need for other dentists to do the same,” says Lacy, “and encourage his or her students — in their own way — to help address the lack of access to dental care for the affected populations.”