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Dr. Vargas Honored for Advocacy

Written by Adam Zewe

Associate Professor Clemencia Vargas, DDS, PhD, dedicates her work to fighting oral health disparities that impact thousands of underserved children in Maryland. Recognizing her tireless efforts, the Hispanic Dental Association (HDA) recently honored Dr. Vargas with the 2011 Women's Award for Advocacy.

Dr. Vargas leads dental student outreach activities to low-income Hispanic families. At health fairs throughout the state, she teaches parents about oral hygiene and explains how unhealthy diets can cause tooth decay. Her lessons also inspire student volunteers to give back. "Our work in the community helps our students see a reality that exists outside of school. It is rewarding to be able to help low-income and underserved populations," she remarks.

For Dr. Vargas, reducing oral health disparities has been a mission since she started her career in Colombia. Filled with a strong sense of social responsibility, she intensified her research when she joined the School of Dentistry faculty in 1999. Oral health disparities are part of a multi-dimensional issue, so she collaborates with researchers across many disciplines. "Oral health disparities reflect the social disparities in the country. Overcoming those disparities is an uphill battle," states Dr. Vargas.

She focuses much of her research on environmental issues that cause dental caries in children. In one study, Dr. Vargas found that kids who have caries are more likely to have mothers who also have caries. Another important research project shows that children from low-income families suffer from more dental caries than children from higher-income families.

Dr. Vargas expresses hope that continued research will inspire public officials to take action. Her ultimate goal is to improve access to care for kids and increase oral health care literacy for both parents and children. Improving access to care improves lives, she states. "This research is addressing a very meaningful problem. It is a matter of basic rights. Children shouldn't be in pain," Dr. Vargas concludes.

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