LIKE MANY STATES, Arizona these days is trying to square a public policy circle: maximizing the cost efficiency of its Medicaid program while getting care to as many residents as possible. Trying to help that process along is Erik Klintmalm, 31, who is pursuing both his DMD and Master of Public Health degree at the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health, an affiliate of A.T. Still University in Mesa.

A native of Waco, Texas, Klintmalm praises ASDOH for its “unique and progressive curriculum,” which emphasizes service to the community.

Have you always known you wanted to be a dentist?

My undergraduate studies in biology, biochemistry and philosophy at Baylor University directed me toward a socially conscious profession with a sound science backing. I switched to dentistry after my graduate education in bioethics at New York University. I also greatly enjoy working with my hands, as I’m sure every dentist does.

What drew you to A.T. Still?

It was a different educational experience than I’d had previously: The focus is a strong science foundation, but also one deeply rooted in serving the community. ASDOH has been a wonderful experience. I’ve learned a great deal more than I ever imagined.
Describe your practicum and the various Arizona health-policy problems you’re working to address.

The MPH [degree] necessitates what’s essentially a yearlong experience in which the student comes up with a topic that addresses a public-health issue. Mine is focused on the lack of dental coverage provided to pregnant women through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid agency. I’ve been spending a great deal of time researching to illuminate whether dental care for pregnant women may help reduce the incidence of pre-term and low-weight babies. In 2014, 86,848 women [in Arizona] gave birth, and of those, more than 6,000 were low-birthweight. The ultimate goal of my efforts is to see AHCCCS provide coverage to pregnant women.

Is this a system-wide problem throughout the state?

Dental care through AHCCCS is severely lacking for adults as a whole. There currently is no emergency dental coverage for adults. In dental school we’re taught often about the importance of oral health and treating the body as a whole. What could be more appropriate for a public-health initiative than addressing women and future children?

“I’ve been spending a great deal of time researching to illuminate whether dental care for pregnant women may help reduce the incidence of preterm and low weight babies.”

How does one combat a problem of this scope and complexity?

Judiciously, and with lots of guidance. Kevin Earle, the executive director of the Arizona Dental Association, has been paramount. Make no mistake, I’m not a one-man army.

What are your plans come 2018, when you receive your degree?

I don’t know where I’m headed. I want to practice and would like to be an advocate and, at some point, an educator. Taking part in the profession as a whole through writing is one of my primary aspirations. To do this, I imagine I’ll take part in organized dentistry in some fashion. On a personal level, my primary aspiration is to effect change in my community. The landscape is shifting, and I want to be at the forefront. The future is exciting.