Lisa Simon finds it hard to fathom the separation between medical care and dental care. She became a dentist and physician to see whether there was a way to bridge that historical divide — and correct another kind of systemic gap.
“Having an oral health problem or experiencing dental suffering is something that only people who experience various forms of injustice in the United States actually experience,” Simon said. “It’s simply not fair.”
It’s tougher for older adults, people of color, rural residents, people with disabilities, and those whose primary language isn’t English to access dental care. It’s for this reason that Simon chose to go to medical school after practicing as a dentist. While practicing dentistry part-time while in medical school, Simon saw similar disparities impact another group at the margins: people who are incarcerated. Simon helped run a dental student clinic at the Suffolk County Jail in Boston until the pandemic hit, making it much harder to access patients. Simon transitioned to practicing medicine full-time as a resident physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. But her experiences as both a physician and dentist inform her research using large datasets to understand how health policies impact patients’ access to dental care, and how to achieve a more just dental system.
While Simon isn’t currently a practicing dentist, she won’t give up her license, at least not yet. Every so often, she gets a call from a colleague or a text message asking for guidance on a patient’s dental care.
Simon’s bigger-picture vision is to see her pilot initiatives — integrating dentistry in clinics and hospitals — play out in the U.S. medical and oral health care systems. On a personal level, running serves as Simon’s meditation: This year, she ran the Boston Marathon at 25 weeks pregnant.
— Ambar Castillo