Uncommon Careers

Here, There, Everywhere - Marita Rohr Inglehart

University of Michigan School of Dentistry

I was on maternity leave in 1990 when the dental school administration contacted the department of psychology to find a replacement for their behavioral science instructor, who had to leave her job suddenly. Our department chair recommended me because I previously had taught courses at the medical school. I taught one course, then another, and now I am a tenured professor in the dental school (and an adjunct professor in the psychology department) and love my work there.

I am in the periodontology and oral medicine department. My research focuses on the role of psychosocial factors in patients’ oral health and oral-health-related behavior as well as in interactions between patients and dentists. I teach three courses and coteach one course for predoctoral dental students, one course for dental hygiene students, and one course for orthodontic residents per year. The material I cover is concerned with ensuring that students become patient-centered, culturally competent dentists and dental hygienists who are interested in collaborating with other health professionals such as psychologists when providing care for their patients. Mentoring junior colleagues and students for their research activities is probably the biggest contribution I make to our school.

The biggest benefit to working in the school of dentistry is that I can introduce my dental colleagues to psychological insights they might otherwise not consider. The Commission on Dental Accreditation requires all graduates to be competent in behavioral-science-related issues of care, so my teaching is crucial to ensure that this accreditation standard is being met. The biggest drawback to working in this department is that it is difficult to keep up with the field of psychology because I am so strongly involved in dentistry-related research.

Behavior plays a huge role in preventing oral health issues such as periodontal disease and caries. Much of my work therefore focuses on prevention of oral disease, including engaging students in tobacco-cessation counseling. A new trend in dentistry and medicine is to include patient-centered outcomes, such as assessments of
oral-health-related quality of life or patient satisfaction with treatment, in research studies. My colleagues appreciate my collaboration in this area.