Dentist on Display: Israel Adeloye, D14, MPH15
Graduation was approaching and Israel Adeloye, D14, MPH15, already knew that working within public health was in his future. As a teenager in Chicago, he remembered taking trips to Cook County Hospital to receive dental care. He wanted to work in a setting that provided accessible, comprehensive medical care in one location.
At the time, however, he did not realize that within one year he would be the dental director at a health center in rural Maine.
Beginning a Career in Public Health
As a student enrolled in Tufts’ DMD/MPH joint program, Adeloye still had one more year of coursework after dental school to finish his master’s degree. He decided to apply to a general dentist position at Mattapan Community Health Center in Boston while he finished his degree. At Mattapan, Adeloye connected easily to his patients, a large number of whom were Haitian. Though Adeloye was raised in Nigeria, his patients sometimes mistook him as Haitian and would initially start speaking to him in Creole.
“My patients were more comfortable with me,” he said. “They would tell me their lives beyond the dental work. It felt more comfortable treating them and when you present options to them, they know you have their best in mind…Once people build that trust with you, they’re willing to learn what they need to do to improve their own lives.”
Despite the positive connections, Adeloye knew that he wanted to leave Boston as his program came to a close. “I was just sick of the noise,” he said. Growing up in Nigeria, he lived in a community where he enjoyed the quiet and small-town feeling of knowing everyone. Hoping to recapture this experience, he began looking at more rural areas and decided to move to Maine.
Applying to Sacopee Valley Health Center
When Adeloye was first contacted for an interview at Sacopee Valley Health Center in Porter, ME, he was already pursuing another position and wasn’t planning to accept. But the idea of taking a day off from his work at Mattapan and driving to Maine sounded appealing. He decided to make the trip to Porter to interview for the position.
“I went there, but I didn’t take it seriously,” he said, adding he didn’t even wear a suit, opting for more casual attire. Once there, he was told that the center was starting a dental clinic to complement the other medical services already provided. The job would be to start the clinic, and serve the community’s dental needs. He was candidly told that the workload was high and that the dental need was even higher.
“You go to a place and you feel needed,” Adeloye said. “This is what I’m supposed to be doing, but it wasn’t part of my plan.” Despite already planning to accept the other position at an established facility, Adeloye had a feeling that the opportunity at Sacopee Valley Health Center was a better fit. “This is why I went into public health,” he said. “This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Adeloye decided to return for a second interview. “This time I was more serious,” he said. “I had my suit on and the whole thing…That’s when I knew, ok, I’m going to take the job. It’s going to be difficult, but I’ll make it work.”
Building a Dental Clinic & Working at Sacopee Valley Health Center
The Sacopee Valley Health Center’s dental clinic was created in April 2015. Adeloye was charged with buying materials as well as developing the processes and procedures to be used in the clinic.
Adeloye credits Tufts with helping him handle the daunting task of building a clinic from scratch. “I came back to Tufts; I got my paper and I started working on the floor [and] writing everything down. If you go through the processes [at Sacopee] right now, it’s almost a replica of what we have at Tufts.” Adeloye also began to reach out to other dental professionals for advice and feedback about how to get started. The startup process, which was slated to take two months, ending up taking five months to complete. The challenges continued once the clinic opened.
The challenge of building patient relationships was a long process. Unlike the patient population at Mattapan Community Health Center, Porter’s residents were predominantly white. They were also not accustomed to going to the dentist so building trust was important.
“We have a lot of patients [that] come in, but it takes a little while to build that reputation,” he said. “My first couple months, sometimes I’d go in and the patient would say ‘Are you the dentist?’ and I’d say yes and they give me that look, and I say ‘Yep, I’m the dentist.’ So it took a little while to get past that stage, and then with time, the word would spread. Once someone likes you, the trend just starts that way.”
Another major challenge was the community’s substantial need for dental care. Prior to the clinic’s creation, many residents lacked access to care, as the majority of the community could not afford the private practice options in the vicinity. Consequently, many residents did not receive regular dental care. After two years of operation, the clinic sees about 1800 patients, with about 7-8 new patients daily.
“Initially it felt like an emergency department,” Adeloye said, stating that the majority of his work consisted of extractions or draining abscesses. “Now we’re transitioning to the maintenance phase, where we’re helping them with their oral hygiene and making sure we’re getting to the fillings, the crowns, and maintaining what they have. We’ve come a long way.”
Adeloye’s efforts have been noticed by both his patients as well as by the dental community. In October, Maine Primary Care Association selected him as a co-recipient for 2017’s Excellence in Oral Health Award. Despite his progress, Adeloye still has his sights set on new goals. The clinic is beginning to focus its attention on pediatric patients and educating patients on oral health and hygiene. “Some of our patients, 18, 19 years old, they don’t have anything [teeth] left. Everything’s gone. We’re trying to change that trend slowly.”
In addition to the clinic’s growth, Adeloye has seen personal growth in himself as well. “I think I’m more comfortable with dentistry,” he said. “Before I’d never go out of my comfort zone. I just liked to do what was comfortable for me, that’s it. But since starting the practice, I’ve learned to reach out to people [and] get out of my comfort zone.”
-Marguerite M. Moore
If you are interested in nominating a recent TUSDM alum, please contact Marguerite Moore, Assistant Director of Student Affairs and Career Services, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Dentist on Display archive.