Dr. Capurro Hired as Nevada's State Dental Health Officer

Jan. 1, 2017

Dr. Antonina Capurro has been Nevada’s State Dental Health Officer since August 2016. In her role, she provides clinical and dental public health leadership to Nevada’s Division of Public and Behavioral Health (DPBH), the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Oral Health Program while serving as the state’s spokesperson for oral health. 

Dr. Capurro’s primary responsibility is devising sustainable tactics for providing oral health care to the state’s nearly 2.9 million residents, especially those living in rural communities.
Her strategy is to begin small and inspire momentum.

“I often hear about different initiatives to improve access to care, but most end well before the concept can take root,” Dr. Capurro said. “For instance, a small clinic may open, but the dentist relocates and so service ends. Or a grant is secured for a mobile clinic, but the vehicle is taken back once the grant concludes. My focus is to make these efforts last. We have so many dedicated, passionate dental professionals in this state who could be mobilized if resources were available and services organized by the state. ”

One of her many ideas involves the creation of a dental library that will contain fundamental supplies and instruments to provide care. The pilot dental library will be housed in a single rural town under the supervision of the nurse in an elementary school or the local health department. While the Oral Health Program would provide oversight, the health department or local school nurse would identify children and possibly adults who need care and coordinate the appointment schedules. The idea also proposes that dentists and public health dental hygienists from private practices as well as faculty and students from the UNLV School of Dental Medicine will rotate through the clinic to provide treatments. 

“One of the challenges rural communities face is either not having a licensed dentist who lives in the town, or not having an available Medicaid provider,” Dr. Capurro said.  “Dentists outside the area are often hesitant to volunteer because of the difficulty in providing and transporting all the necessary tools and supplies. The library would house what’s needed, enabling a dentist and hygienist to begin seeing patients right away.”
The equipment could be purchased by the state, and supplies donated by dental corporations and private practices. If her idea is successful, the model could be replicated in other rural areas throughout the state.

Another of Dr. Capurro’s responsibilities is overseeing dental services provided by Medicaid in the state. Since being hired for this role, she has revised, edited, and strengthened the language of Medicaid Chapter 1000-Dental, Medicaid polices and schedules, and defined managed care organization contractual dental benefits structure.  

“It has been a privilege to be a part of the Medicaid team and devote a large portion of my time to ensuring effective changes are made that benefit the greater Medicaid population while conserving program resources,” Dr. Capurro said.

She is also determined to acquire data on the dental landscape in Nevada to better visualize areas of unmet need and effectively utilize available resources and partnerships. Under Dr. Capurro’s leadership, the Oral Health Program is collaborating with the DPBH Primary Care Office and UNLV School of Dental Medicine’s Special Care Dental Clinic and has entered into conversations with the Medical Education Council of Nevada to design a workforce survey that will be distributed to all licensed dentists and hygienists in the state. The results of this study will be compared to Nevada’s 2007 workforce survey and will allow policy makers to recognize barriers to care and implement interventions that will improve quality of care for underserved populations including rural, migrant communities, the elderly, and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities.     
As State Dental Health Officer, Dr. Capurro’s greatest challenge is time. Her one-year appointment, which concludes July 2017, is contingent upon funding, which may or may not be available during the coming fiscal year. Undaunted, Dr. Capurro is dedicated to making an impact.

“My team and I strive for small successes -- those that make an immediate impact or can be continued whether this position exists or not. This first year has been a lightning round for assessing the needs of our state. A second year could certainly make those initial ideas a long-term reality.”