February 19, 2024

Dr. Bill Milner

Dr. Bill Milner

The American Dental Association (ADA) recognized Bill Milner, DDS, MPH ’84 (health policy and administration), with its 2023 humanitarian award for decades of outstanding contributions to dentistry and health equity.

Milner received the award primarily for his work with Access Dental Care, the organization he created, with support from the North Carolina Dental Society, to expand access to dental services for older people and people with special health needs.

These two populations frequently face barriers that can prevent them from receiving adequate dental care, owing to a traditional model of dentistry that requires patients be able to travel to an office, sit still and keep their mouths open. Access Dental Care alleviates these barriers by bringing a clinic, with specially trained providers, directly to people in need. Milner and associates travel to nursing homes, residential care and day programs to provide services.

Milner has training in both public health and dentistry, and this training gives him a unique perspective on the role of dentistry in overall health and service models. Experience with health care in other countries opened his eyes to other ways to provide necessary care, especially to populations that were underserved.

“I owe my program development skills and understanding of how communities are structured to what I learned at Gillings,” said Milner. “It has been a pleasure to give back to the School and to North Carolina.”

Access Dental now operates in more than 150 facilities across N.C. and is working with partners to explore new funding models for special care dentistry and updated training for dental providers.

Dentistry is a vital though sometimes overlooked element of health. Nearly 100% of adults have dental cavities and many don’t receive adequate treatment. A worldwide analysis of 291 diseases found untreated caries (tooth decay) and cavities were the most prevalent. The resulting dental disease leads to lost quality of life and increased vulnerability to a wide range of chronic diseases.

Access Dental Care staff unload equipment.

Access Dental Care staff unload equipment.

A lack of access to oral health care has a snowball effect; it exacerbates other conditions and worsens existing health inequities. While there are ways to counter this disparity, they aren’t always easy. Milner notes that their workday often involves “up to an hour’s travel one-way” and moving heavy equipment around. His work to expand the resources and training for this type of care may mean the burden won’t continue to fall so heavily on his team alone.

As for the prize, he notes the $10,000 award will go to Access Dental Care for new equipment.

The ADA Humanitarian Award is bestowed annually by the organization’s board of trustees. Recipients are dentists who have distinguished themselves through outstanding, unselfish leadership through the expenditure of extraordinary time and professional skills – all to improve the oral health of underserved populations.

About the American Dental Association

The not-for-profit ADA is the nation’s largest dental association, representing 159,000 dentist members. The premier source of oral health information, the ADA has advocated for the public’s health and promoted the art and science of dentistry since 1859.

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