Burke Soffe Says Lyon College Dental School Will Focus on Underserved Areas

Burke Soffe Says Lyon College Dental School Will Focus on Underserved Areas
Soffe grew up in Salt Lake City before moving to Virginia to play soccer and finish his undergraduate degree. (Karen E. Segrave)

Before joining Lyon College’s new dental school, Soffe was assistant dean for faculty development and curriculum at Roseman University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine in South Jordan, Utah.

Soffe has a medical dentistry degree from the University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Dental Medicine, a master’s from Western Governors University and a bachelor’s degree from Southern Virginia University.

What goes into creating a dental school from scratch?

A tremendous amount of work goes into developing a dental school from scratch. The planning for the school commenced years ago and we are now finalizing an application for dental accreditation. Dental accreditation is typically a 12- to 18-month process. Additionally, efforts to secure the land to build the school, establishing community partnerships, curriculum development, establishing policies and processes, and setting up clinic sites have been underway for more than a year. Next steps include, but are not limited to, building the dental clinic and simulation clinic, hiring administrators and faculty, and recruiting and admitting dental students who are eager and ready to make a difference in Arkansas.

How do you plan to attract professors to the school?

We plan to reach out to dentists in Arkansas and dentists in surrounding states with Arkansas ties to gauge interest in joining our team. Additionally, we will conduct a national search for talented dentists and dental educators who want to make an impact in Arkansas.

What should be done to ensure that underserved areas get more dentists?

The Lyon College School of Oral Health & Dental Medicine will focus student clinical education in areas of greatest need throughout the state. Part of our mission is to address the oral health needs of the underserved. Many of our clinical education sites will be in underserved areas and our hope is that graduates will return to practice in these areas.

Why isn’t dental care covered under regular health insurance? Should it be?

Historically, oral health has been absent from the global health agenda and the mouth has been separate from the rest of the body in terms of insurance coverage. In an ideal world, dental care should be included in whole-body health care because oral health is essential to overall health and well-being at every stage of life. Organized dentistry has focused for years on including the mouth in medicine and systemic health. Nevertheless, reimbursement models and educational practices are different in dentistry and medicine. Unfortunately, oral health care services remain out of reach for many Arkansans, but there is momentum in interprofessional, collaborative care models that will hopefully improve access to care and reduce the financial burden of oral health care.

Do people still avoid the dentist, and if so, why?

Unfortunately, many people still avoid the dentist. Oral health is neglected for many reasons, and many patients avoid  the dentist until something hurts. Several studies say the No. 1 reason people avoid the dentist is financial. Other factors may include fear, education, access to care or transportation. We hope to address and substantially reduce these impediments to accessing dental care, and we want to work with all Arkansas dentists to make sure all Arkansans have a dental home.