Dr. Aljernon Bolden, Director of Extramural Programs at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, recently was elected President of the National Dental Association (NDA), the largest and oldest organization of minority oral health professionals in the world, for a one-year term beginning in January 2005.
"We embrace the philosophy that oral healthcare is a right, not a privilege for every American," Dr. Bolden said. "The NDA is dedicated to providing affordable dental care, education, and guidance to the disenfranchised, the underserved, and persons at high risk�those who have problems obtaining oral health services. Our mission is to elevate the health status of those in society who are most neglected, and that would include racial and ethnic minorities, children, the indigent, the elderly, and the disabled."
In addition to oral health services, the NDA also has an educational mission. "Our National Dental Association Foundation, in partnership with Colgate-Palmolive and several other corporations, develops mentoring program and provides scholarship funds," Dr. Bolden noted. Funds raised at a recent Lincoln Dental Society golf outing, for example, which provided scholarship dollars for the College, were matched by the NDA Foundation.
"My leadership in the NDA and my role as Director of Extramural Programs at the College is to identify opportunities for the two organizations to work together in assuring access for the underserved," he said. "The theme of my presidency is 'Working together to eliminate oral health disparities.'"
Dr. Bolden believes that his Presidency will heighten the profile of the UIC College of Dentistry nationally. Having an academic as President of the NDA also will focus the attention of the oral healthcare community on the importance of the academic sector in providing care to the underserved, he said.
A member of the organization since 1977, Dr. Bolden has served as Chairperson of the NDA Committee on Dental Health Education and Professional Advancement and Research. For four years, he also chaired a joint initiative of the NDA, American Dental Education Association (ADEA), and Colgate-Palmolive that provides faculty awards to top researchers at 55 dental schools. Dr. Bolden had been Vice President and President-Elect prior to becoming President.
With his high degree of NDA activity, "The College has been able to network and attract some of the most qualified individuals in the country for positions at UIC," Dr. Bolden explained. "Dean Bruce Graham has been very supportive and has hosted receptions at which we've been able to present information about progress at UIC and showcase our students and their activities."
Such progress has included the College's receiving a $1.5 million Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to help prepare an oral healthcare workforce competent and committed to treating the underserved, and a $250,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg/ADEA Minority Dental Faculty Development Program to increase the number of minority faculty at the College. Last year, the Student National Dental Association chapter at UIC received an award for exceptional community service.
Dr. Bolden believes the NDA, founded in 1913, continues to perform a crucial service to dentistry. "It wasn't until the 1950s and 1960s that African-American dentists were allowed into any other dental organizations, and even today there still is a void in the leadership of these other organizations concerning people of color," he explained. "This impacts on policy and on oral care. Eighty percent of those who are at high risk are provided oral care by practitioners of color. Our membership is really doing the work right now in caring for the underserved."