The OHIO Project Gives Fourth-year Dental Students Real-World Experience

Making the leap from the classroom to the real world is a daunting transition faced by new graduates everywhere, regardless of their profession. Ohio State College of Dentistry alumni are helping ease the transition by providing soon-to-be graduates with real-world experience in tandem with their classroom curriculum.

Through the OHIO Project (Oral Health Improvement through Outreach), fourth-year students work with College of Dentistry alumni who supervise them as they provide a variety of treatments to diverse populations in a number of different settings. Participating students must complete 50 days of in-clinic experience before graduation. Students spend up to a month at a site before rotating to another site, where they gain a different experience.

“I wish they’d had a project like this when I was in school,” said Dr. Deani Deskins-Knebel ’92, Dental Director at the Columbus Health Department and an OHIO Project partner from the beginning. “Students who graduate now are better prepared,” she said. “The use of time, their confidence, and the level of skill they display is greatly improved.”

The OHIO Project was started at the college in 2003 when the program was funded by a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Initial OHIO Project partners included the Columbus Health Department, Ohio State’s Nisonger Center, the Cincinnati Health Department, and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Today, the OHIO Project has expanded in scope to include more than 20 sites, offering a diverse set of options for students, both in terms of treatment styles and patient demographics.

Service & Opportunity

Dr. Matthew Kanetsky ’09 participated in the OHIO Project as a College of Dentistry student, and is now committed to supporting the program by volunteering as a supervising dentist. “Participating in the OHIO Project was the best part of my overall education,” he said.

Dr. Kanetsky is the site coordinator for the OHIO Project at the Chillicothe Veterans’ Medical Center and said that students who work with him get to “see patients who are medically compromised and learn what it’s like to work with this special population (veterans).”

“The students don’t usually get to see rural areas and how some patients live,” Dr. Kanetsky said. “The experience can be rather eye-opening.”

Five of the top 10 reasons people go to emergency rooms in Central Ohio involve dental pain, Dr. Deskins-Knebel added. “They go to the ER if they can’t pay; [for some] it’s hard to afford dental care.” She said students who treat these underserved individuals are often surprised by the gratitude they receive.

“Many students have never thought about whether they had to choose between paying their bills or getting their teeth fixed,” Dr. Deskins-Knebel said. “Here, they meet patients who do have to make such choices.”


In addition to gaining experience with actual patients and procedures, OHIO Project students have the opportunity to work with experienced lab technicians, dental hygienists, and other professional dental auxiliaries. Being part of a working team contributes to their understanding of working within a dental practice, and frees them to focus on more sophisticated procedures.

“The students love that they get a [full-time] dental assistant when they are here, so they can focus on patient care,” Dr. Kanetsky said.


In addition to treating a variety of populations, students also hone the skills they have developed in the classroom.

Dr. Erik Risolvato (’03) is in private practice at Lima Dental Associates and Lima Community Dental, and began participating as a supervisor in the OHIO Project in 2005. He agreed that one of the key benefits to the program is when students realize they can do even more for underserved populations.

“I teach them to get a bigger vision, serve more people, and be more confident doing procedures,” he said.

“I can’t overstate the value of this experience for the students,” Dr. Deskins-Knebel added. “Not only are they gaining procedural skills and understanding patient care, but they’re also gaining confidence in themselves as future dentists. This preparation will help them avoid the overwhelm that can occur when running a busy private practice.”

Public, Private

As a practitioner who has successfully run a private practice and worked in public health, Dr. Deskins-Knebel understands the advantages and demands of working in both areas. Students in the OHIO Project can gain experience in both areas during their 50-day rotations.

“Working at a public health site, students see the benefits of giving back,” she said. “In private practice, they get to perform a number of procedures that we don’t do in public health. They also have technology that is not available in public health.”

As the only private practitioner site in the project, Dr. Risolvato agreed that private practice provides a different type of experience for students. “I can expose them to tools, techniques, and technology that they can’t get in school or at publicly funded sites,” he said.
This diversity of experience is important for students, he said, because it broadens their emerging vision of how and where they might practice.

“Especially when working with high-need populations,” he added. “Students need to focus on expanding their skills and building their confidence so they can offer more support.”


More than 35 dentists participate in the OHIO Project as supervisors with associated faculty status, each with their own reasons for doing so.

For Dr. Kanetsky, the reasons are two-fold. First, the students bring new vitality to his practice. “Sometimes you get into a general routine,” he said. “Having students here brings excitement and new energy to our work.” In addition, Dr. Kanetsky has seen the program influence students’ career choices. “We’ve had students who begin to shape their careers by providing service to underserved populations.”
Dr. Deskins-Knebel sees the OHIO Project as a way to possibly inspire students to consider careers in public service. And she is seeing that result first-hand now, having recently hired a new dentist at the Columbus Health Department who went through the program.

Providing the proper training for service to high-need communities is key for Dr. Risolvato. “If we want students to work in underserved areas,” he said, “we’ve got to train them properly. They have to have more real-life experience [in these settings] before they graduate.”

Providing students with invaluable field experience; underserved populations with much-needed dental care; and dental practices with a boost of fresh energy – the OHIO Project has much to offer all involved.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2013 Ohio State Dental Journal.

Comments (0)

Allowed tags: <b><i><br>Add a new comment: