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Hugh Silk earns public service award for integrating oral health into primary care

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

April 21, 2016
  Hugh Silk, MD, MPH
  Hugh Silk, MD, MPH

Hugh Silk, MD, MPH, is the recipient of the American Association of Public Health Dentistry’s 2016 Public Service Award. The award was presented at the association’s annual meeting in Cincinnati on April 17.

“I am proud to be among the few physicians who have won this award,” said Dr. Silk, professor of family medicine & community health at UMass Medical School and medical director of the Primary Care Wellness Center at Community Healthlink. “It underscores the important role we can play in improving patients’ oral health as part of the care we provide.” 

The American Association of Public Health Dentistry was founded in 1937 to improve total health for all citizens through the development and support of effective programs of oral health promotion and disease prevention. It has granted the Public Service Award since 1984 to an individual who has made substantial contributions to improving health through action related to public health dentistry issues.

Silk joins these ranks as a primary care physician who is a staunch advocate for, and teacher of, integrating oral health into primary care medical practice. Other medical doctors who have received the award include former U.S. Surgeons General David Satcher, MD, and C. Everett Koop, MD. Past honorees also include President Jimmy Carter, U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Edward Kennedy, and social activist Marian Wright Edelman.

In addition to his faculty and clinical roles at UMass Medial School and UMass Memorial Health Care, Silk is a lecturer at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and director of  From the First Tooth—Engaging Medical Clinicians in Oral Health. From the First Tooth promotes the oral health of infants, toddlers and preschool children by helping primary care medical providers integrate dental screening, referrals and fluoride varnishing into their practice.  He has been instrumental in developing and disseminating the Society for Teachers of Family Medicine’s “Smiles for Life” curriculum for medical providers, which has been endorsed by the AAPHD.

A growing body of research shows the importance of dental care in overall health care. A recent study found that treating gum disease in pregnant women and patients with type 2 diabetes, stroke or heart disease resulted in fewer hospitalizations and impressive medical cost savings. Silk cites other encouraging developments such as the Affordable Care Act calling for insurers to reimburse providers of fluoride varnish application for children from eruption of the first tooth to age 6; the growing inclusion of oral health services at local and national Accountable Care Organizations; and increased research and training funding. Silk’s own work in the field has been supported by multiple funders.  

“The role of physicians in oral health is gaining momentum,” Silk said. “I feel good about getting more medical schools, physician assistant schools and clinical practices around New England engaged through our efforts.” 

Related links on UMassMedNow:
Why your medical doctor should examine your teeth
Silk: ‘There’s hope’ for integrating dental and medical care
Silk’s oral health resolution adopted by MMS
Medicine from the heart . . . Hugh Silk: Climbing the Mountain
Family Medicine and Community Health faculty recognized