Nation’s top dentist addresses students at his alma mater
Published on Thursday, January 31, 2019
By: Kate Royals
The nation’s top dentist Dr. Timothy Ricks, an alumnus of the School of Dentistry at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, visited campus last week to share his experience in public health and potential career opportunities with students.
As Assistant Surgeon General, Ricks also told students about U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams’ top priorities, including opioid use disorder and reducing tobacco use, particularly with the rise of e-cigarette use among young people.
Ricks, a 1995 dental school graduate, told students about his path to public health work after working in private practice in Mississippi for several years after earning his D.M.D.
“I felt like I had a bigger calling, and I remembered in dental school somebody from the Indian Health Service came and talked (to the students),” he recalled.
The Indian Health Service is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services responsible for providing health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Ricks reached out to two Indian Health Services locations, one in Montana and one in Nevada. He interviewed in Nevada, his and his wife’s first choice, and was hired on the spot, never making it to Montana.
He began what would be a long career with the IHS in a small dental clinic with one dental assistant and two dental chairs, calling the transition from private practice to a public health setting “a real eye opener.”
“It was an adjustment to go from seeing 20 to 25 patients a day in private practice to about six patients a day,” he described. “One thing about public health is you can’t refer (for more complicated procedures), you have to be able to handle everything.”
Ricks has been with the IHS since 1999, and has overseen clinics spanning across Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and along the East Coast.
During his presentation, Ricks encouraged dental students to consider a career in public health dentistry. He shared details of the Indian Health Service externship available to third-year dental students before their senior year. During the externship, students work at one of the IHS clinics with a preceptor. Clinics are located in Alaska, Minnesota, Montana, Tennessee, Arizona, Oklahoma and Washington, along with areas in the Great Plains region.
After being appointed to serve as the Chief Dental Officer of the U.S. Public Health Service in September of last year, Ricks became, in addition to his full-time role as the Deputy Director of Indian Health Service, the Assistant Surgeon General and the nation’s top oral health official.
In this new role, Ricks provides guidance and advice to the U.S. Surgeon General on matters related to oral health and the recruitment, retention and career development of the more than 2,000 dentists in the U.S. Public Health Service. He also represents the U.S. Public Health Service within organized dentistry, dental academia, global dentistry and agencies where those dentists are employed, including the Bureau of Prisons and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Health Service Corps, among others.
Ricks will be involved in the production of the second Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health, which is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2020. The goals for the report are to document progress in oral health since 2000 when the first report was released, to identify existing knowledge gaps and develop a public health vision for the future, Ricks explained.
Dr. David Felton, dean of the School of Dentistry and professor of care planning and restorative sciences, said he is not surprised an alumnus of the School of Dentistry would reach such heights in his career.
“Dr. Ricks has distinguished himself in the US Public Health Service, and has an impressive career in that arena,” said Dr. David Felton, dean of the School of Dentistry and professor of care planning and restorative sciences. “We are so proud, and fortunate, to have him as a School of Dentistry alumnus.”