Serving The Community, One Smile At A Time

Wilber Ramirez-Rodriguez '10 Inside Pacific's Smile Care VanThe only thing bigger than a passion for the dental profession for Wilber Ramirez-Rodriguez ’10 is his heart for service.

An associate professor in Pacific University’s School of Dental Hygiene Studies, Ramirez-Rodriguez has used that heart to not only educate students but to provide dental services to underserved communities across Oregon through the Smile Care Everywhere program.

Now that service extends to helping shape the future of dental education with appointments to two national boards. Ramirez-Rodriguez, the 12th dental therapist licensed in Oregon, was recently named to the board of directors of the American Dental Therapy Association and was also named to the Service and Outreach Committee for the Hispanic Dental Association.

The appointment to the ADTA board gives Ramirez-Rodriguez and Pacific a key seat as the profession starts to grow nationwide, providing a solution to the gap in dental care for rural and underserved communities.

“I wanted to have a little bit of input and be a representative as faculty, as a hygienist, then becoming a dental therapist and being a foreign-trained dentist,” said Ramirez-Rodriguez, who is also licensed as a dental hygienist in Oregon and as a dentist in his native Peru. “I want to see how we can engage all aspects here in Oregon and help develop dental therapy.”

A developing healthcare track, dental therapy allows professionals to provide preventative and routine restorative care, as well as simple dental procedures that, in the past, only dentists could perform, such as simple fillings and extractions and placing temporary crowns.

Pacific University piloted the state’s first dental therapy training program and helped advocate for state approval of the practice. The university is currently developing a master’s program in dental therapy that is projected to open in Fall 2025.

“The need for dental providers, not only in the Northwest and Oregon but nationwide, is huge,” Ramirez-Rodriguez said. “People are waiting six months, a year for their appointments. This is a good time to educate our community and dental therapists so that we can close the gap in access to dental care.”

That desire to provide access also plays into his role with the Hispanic Dental Association, whose mission is to improve oral and other health outcomes for Hispanic and other underserved communities and to advocate for more minorities to enter the profession.

One of the advisors of Pacific’s student HDA chapter, Ramirez-Rodriguez has been at the forefront of furthering dental care in Portland’s Latinx community. In addition to the dental care van, which provides clinics three days per week, the Pacific HDA chapter has conducted School to Career events, introducing local high school students to careers in dental care. The next School to Career event takes place on Friday, March 8.

“One of our big focuses is on providing access to dental care to the Latino communities and in providing these School to Career programs,” Ramirez-Rodriguez said. “I appreciate how diverse our students are at Pacific, training them, giving them tools and sending them back to their communities so that they can provide those services to the people who really need them. This is one way to help.”

Amy Coplen, director of the School of Dental Hygiene Studies, said that national appointments are a direct reflection of Ramirez-Rodriguez’s commitment to healthcare accessibility.

“Wilber works tirelessly to bring oral care to those who need it most,” Coplen said. “He embodies our school’s mission to increase access to care for underserved populations. His care and commitment to the community is an inspiration to our students.”

The committee work supplements Ramirez-Rodriguez’s role as the school’s mobile dental clinic coordinator. Through Pacific’s mobile dental health van and with the help of students, the program serves nearly 500 patients and provides approximately 2,500 treatments annually.

Those treatments now include simple fillings and extractions, thanks to Ramirez-Rodriguez’s passion in making dental care more accessible.

Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024