Long before she graduated from dental school in 2020 and became a California-licensed dentist, Jennifer Stone, DMD, MPH, recipient of the CDA Foundation’s 2022 Student Loan Repayment Grant, was dedicating her time and training to public health serving individuals who need dental care the most.
In the last few years, she completed externships at four clinics in the Western U.S., including the Hopi Health Care Clinic in Arizona and three federally qualified health centers, provided volunteer dental care in the Dominican Republic and participated in numerous volunteer events during her stint as the American Student Dental Association’s community outreach co-chair for district 10.
Dr. Stone’s work with underserved populations reaches back to 2011 when, as dental coordinator for Volunteers Around the World, she helped to integrate oral health education into the organization’s medical outreach trip to Guatemala, but her commitment accelerated once she completed her initial training to become a registered dental hygienist.
For example, as student clinic director and volunteer for Ayuda International, she oversaw the hygiene department and provided screenings, cleanings and preventive treatments in over 30 mobile dental clinics in Southern and Central California between 2014 and 2016. And in 2015, Stone became program director for the Oral Hygiene Initiative. Her major accomplishments include implementing a bilingual education curriculum for elementary school children that focused on oral and systemic health and nutrition and launching a pilot dental program at a Title I school in Chandler, Arizona.
Soon after obtaining her Doctor of Dental Medicine and Master of Public Health from Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health in May 2020, Stone began working at Open Door Community Health Centers in Eureka, California, where she remains today. This federally qualified health center provides comprehensive care to low-income individuals of all ages, but Stone primarily treats children ages 5-10 in rural communities via the health center’s mobile dental van.
Since working in Humboldt County, Stone says she has “directly experienced the oral health crisis that plagues pediatric populations in rural communities.” She acknowledges that while the mobile dental van helps prevent children from missing school and parents from missing work, a greater shift from treatment of disease to education and prevention is needed. Therefore, while her short-term goal is to transform the oral health of the pediatric population in Humboldt by getting the van to more schools and seeing more patients, she has a visionary long-term goal.
“I have found that simply treating a tooth is inadequate,” Stone said. “Without education, the cycle continues across generations. I plan to work with state legislators to integrate oral and systemic health into all classrooms and target at-risk populations for early intervention using an intergenerational approach to disease prevention.”
Stone’s advocacy for an intergenerational approach partly stems from her own background — and her education. She grew up in a multigenerational household and was raised by her grandmother and mother, who worked full time.
“My grandmother was an Italian immigrant who came here with nothing, but she and my mother worked hard to pull our family out of poverty and give me the access to health care that I believe should be a right for everyone,” she said.
Stone received a minor in gerontology alongside her Bachelor of Science in dental hygiene at the University of Southern California. She credits her educational background in gerontology and her mother and grandmother’s stories for ingraining in her “a true understanding of how the health and wealth of one generation influences that of the next.”
In a letter recommending Stone for the CDA Foundation’s Student Loan Repayment Grant, Tory Starr, president of Open Door Community Health Centers, said Stone has shown leadership both inside and outside of Open Door with a dedication to projects that exemplifies her commitment to the underserved.
“Her leadership trajectory, beginning with her organization of outreach programs as an undergraduate to her work as a practitioner today, suggests that she will continue to push for change for the remainder of her career,” Starr said.
Carter Wright, DDS, vice president of dental services at Open Door, said in a letter of recommendation: “In a short time, she has proven to be a dentist of the highest caliber and has already made extraordinary contributions to our profession.”
The Foundation awarded Stone just over $103,000 in student loan repayment in exchange for her commitment to maintain an overall patient caseload of at least 30% Medi-Cal patients for at least two years in either a Dental Health Professional Shortage Area in California or at an underserved worksite approved by the Foundation board of directors.
Stone is currently maintaining a Medi-Cal patient caseload of over 80%, and Open Door has an HPSA score of 23.
“The need for dental care far surpasses what is available,” Stone said. “Patients are desperate for care but are unable to obtain it due to long wait lists and a lack of transportation. My long-term goal is to utilize my experience and knowledge to expand a fleet of mobile dental vans to reach rural or inner-city communities in California. We may not be able to build more clinics, but we can bring one in on wheels to the neighborhoods with the highest needs.”
Since 2002, the Foundation’s Student Loan Repayment Grant has helped 21 dentists to embrace their dream of working in public health while serving the Foundation’s mission to reduce barriers to oral health care access. The Foundation awarded its first Student Loan Repayment Grant in 2002. See the bios of past award recipients and the impact of their work.
"With an overwhelming amount of student debt, this grant provides me the financial support needed so that I can focus on underserved populations and outreach projects,” Stone said. “I plan to pay it forward — use the support given to me to help lift up others. I am so grateful to CDA for helping me to achieve my goal of creating a healthier California.”
As the philanthropic arm of the California Dental Association, the CDA Foundation offers financial support to dental professionals and community-based organizations statewide that provide dental care to underserved individuals. Read more about the Foundation’s mission and learn more about all Foundation grant and award programs.