CMDA Dental Residency [+]

Launching a new program to equip dentists

by Jeff Amstutz, DDS, MBA
Today's Christian Doctor - Spring 2014

In partnership with Christ Community Health Services in Memphis, Tennessee, CMDA is launching the CMDA Dental Residency [+] program. The first two residents will begin training in July 2014.

"What has God equipped us to do that others either can't do or aren't doing?" That is the question I asked myself and the Dental Advisory Council as I stepped into the role of CMDA's Vice President for Dental Ministries in 2012. It's a question that we still continue to ask as we seek God's will through prayer.

Together, CMDA's dental members are a diverse group of dental professionals and our experience spans the scope of dentistry: from a small solo practice to large group practices; from serving the wealthiest Americans to working amongst the poorest; and from short-term missions experience to a lifetime call to serve in the most remote areas of the world. We have dental faculty members including some of the top dental lectures in country, authors, military dentists, dentists involved in residency and advanced training programs and, of course, many dental students on campuses across the country.

And God brought us all together to serve His purposes. In dentistry, we likely differ as much as we agree, but it is in our shared desire to follow Jesus that we can find true unity. And because we are so diverse, our impact for God can be much greater and far reaching. What began as a question and a prayer-combined with a commitment to walk with God according to His desires as directed in Micah 6:8-led to the formation of the CMDA Dental Residency [+] program at Christ Community Health Services in Memphis, Tennessee. It is a program designed to motivate, educate and equip young dentists to live out God's call among those in need-both in the U.S. and around the world. Unique in its focus, this three-year program will help prepare dentists to lead, disciple and train others.

The Need

Throughout my career in the dental profession, we have made great advances in our understanding of oral disease and its effect on overall health. We have also made vast developments in treatment and in the equipment and materials used to treat and prevent dental related disease. However, it has also become evident that there is a widening gap in the access to dental care in the U.S. and around the world.

It generally only takes one short-term missions trip, regardless of your role on that trip, to understand the tremendous need for dental care around the world and the lack of access to that care. Along with the understanding of the need comes the realization that we can't make a very sustainable impact on oral healthcare during these trips. We can certainly have a great impact on a few lives, but the greater need for long-term solutions continues after we leave.

A noticeable discrepancy on the mission field is a lack of dentists serving in mission hospitals and other dental facilities around the world. Compared to our physician and nurse colleagues, the gap is huge.

The opportunities for dentistry to play a greater role in missions efforts are certainly available. The latest global burden of disease report shows that dental caries is the most prevalent disease in the world by far.1 The World Dental Federation goes so far as to say that "the world is experiencing a large and growing crisis in access to oral healthcare that, if left unchecked, risks an unmanageable explosion of oral disease, especially in developing countries."2 With dental needs being so great and many mission efforts beginning to focus on non-traditional approaches to reach the least reached with the gospel, the question for us becomes, "Has God perhaps equipped us in CMDA to respond to these needs?"

From Vision to Reality

During my time as a dentist serving at Bongolo Hospital in Gabon, we started building a dental clinic and accepted two Gabonese nurses into a three-year dental training program. Our goal in starting a training program was to train national dental technicians to meet the dental needs of the population of southern Gabon and also share Christ as they live out their faith in the clinic and in their communities.

At the same time, Dr. David Thompson, a CMDA member and my mentor at Bongolo Hospital, was in the first years of the newly established Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS), a surgical residency program for African physicians who would then continue to serve in Africa where the needs were great. Along with the surgical training was spiritual equipping to live a missional life for Christ as a Christian healthcare professional. Watching this program take shape planted the idea for a dental residency program for international dentists that might produce similar, more sustainable and reproducible results than the dental training program we created in Gabon.

That idea continued to simmer over the next few years as my mission work took me to countries in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and many parts of Africa. I often had opportunities to meet with dentists, visit dental schools and clinics and talk about the needs and opportunities.

Two years ago, my life took a drastic, unexpected change as my wife Carrie and I moved from Africa to Bristol, Tennessee to join CMDA. It was a great opportunity to refocus on dentistry and what God is doing through dental professionals committed to Him. And that's when we started asking and praying for His direction as we asked this question: "What has God equipped us to do that others either can't do or aren't doing?"

During our first year in Bristol, a Dental Advisory Council member emailed with a request from a missionary dentist wanting to explore the possibility of a dental residency program in the country where he was serving. After conversations with other missionary dentists showed interest in the idea of a training program for national dentists, I began entertaining thoughts as to what such a program might look like and how CMDA might play a role.

During a CMDA National Convention, Carrie and I shared dinner with Dr. John and Jan Crouch, the founders of In His Image, a family practice residency program that now has training programs in nations around the world. At the end of our time together, he asked, "Have you considered beginning a U.S.-based program to focus on training dentists who in turn may go and begin other programs?" I hadn't given this serious consideration, and now I couldn't get the idea out of my mind. And just like that, the vision for a U.S.-based program with an international component was born. So I invited other dentists to travel with me to visit a few dental residency programs. As I traveled and met with various clinics and dental directors, I would share a bit about a missional vision for training.

One of the programs I visited was Christ Community Health Services in Memphis, Tennessee, a group of seven medical and three dental clinics serving those most in need in one of the least served areas in the country. As I met with CCHS' co-founder and CEO Rick Donlon, MD, it was clear that God had prepared the way for us to work together. CCHS recently began a family practice residency program, is expanding its dental facilities and already has a strong vision for what God might do through dental ministry. After much prayer and discussion, CMDA joined in partnership with CCHS to form the new dental residency program, with plans for me to relocate to Memphis for a two-year period to help launch the initiative.

"We're thrilled to serve as the the pilot site for CMDA's new dental residency program," said Dr. Donlon. "Under Dr. Amstutz' leadership, CMDA and Christ Community will equip a new generation of dental leaders for fruitful service among the poor and around the world."

The CMDA Dental Residency [+]

The CMDA Dental Residency [+] trains and equips dentists to provide excellent dental care to the poor domestically and internationally in response to the call of Jesus to preach the gospel and heal the sick. This first of its kind Christian dental training program will focus on ensuring the residents excel in their clinical abilities, as well as focusing on encouraging them to become dentists who can train other dentists to train dentists. Combined with a call on the dentist's life to share Christ among the underserved in difficult places, our graduates will be prepared to spend their careers in this country and around the world, sharing Christ through their lives and helping to meet the tremendous dental needs in more sustainable ways by establishing similar programs and training and discipling others.

This June, we will begin orientation for the first class of the CMDA Dental Residency [+] program. Thanks to a unique partnership, the first year will consist of the Lutheran Medical Center/University of Tennessee Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) resi-dency year. During this year, residents will gain experience and develop competencies in dental implants along with the various dental specialties. They will spend half their clinic hours at the University of Tennessee and the other half in the CCHS dental clinics. In joining the CCHS community, residents will also move into the neighborhoods they will be serving. There will be ongoing mentoring, community development exposure and a spiritual curriculum of study in addition to the dental training. Throughout the program, there will be overlap and integration with the family medicine residency to increase the understanding of the impact of oral disease for the physicians and to provide hospital and clinical experience for the dentists.

The following two years are the [+] one and [+] two years when the residents will be employed by CCHS and be eligible for the loan repayment program through the National Health Service Corps in addition to earning a salary. While patient treatment will dominate these years, ongoing training will also include a month-long international rotation, continuing with the spiritual curriculum, mentoring, increasing understanding of clinic management principles, mentoring new residents and teaching/presentation responsibilities. This will take place in the context of living in under-resourced communities and involvement with church planting efforts in these same neighborhoods.

Looking to the Future

Much work remains to be done and our first residents will be key in helping set the bar for the program and also helping shape the CMDA Residency [+] for the future.

I don't pretend to know what God might choose to accomplish through this program. Perhaps He will choose to replicate the model here in the U.S. so that many more might find help in their pathway to service through dentistry. Perhaps He will allow dental residency programs to be established in various locations around the world which will in turn see dentists, committed to Christ and at the top of their profession, begin to train and disciple others in their countries.

The needs are great-but so too are the opportunities. Of this I am sure, as we continue to walk with God according to His word in this endeavor, He will continue to show us the next steps and bring along the people necessary to accomplish His purpose. Yes, we have our plans, but it is His purpose that will prevail. We don't want it any other way.

"What has God equipped us to do that others ei-ther can't do or aren't doing?"

It's the question that started us on this journey, and it's a question that will continue to guide and direct as we seek God's will for the future of the program. Are you willing to ask yourself this same question? Perhaps God has equipped you to join us in developing curriculum, teaching, providing clinical expertise or even supporting the program financially. Perhaps God is waiting for you to take the next step. For more information, please visit


1Marcenes, W., et al. "Global Burden of Oral Conditions in 1990- 2010: A Systematic Analysis." Journal of Dental Research. 2013 Jul;92(7):592-7. doi: 10.1177/0022034513490168. Epub 2013 May 29.

2 "World Faces Rising Oral Health Care Crisis, Says Leading International Dental Organization." - HONG KONG, Aug. 30, 2012/PRNewswire. PR Newsire, 30 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Jan. 2014.

Christian Medical & Dental Associations®

About Christian Medical & Dental Associations®

The Christian Medical & Dental Associations® (CMDA) is made up of the Christian Medical Association (CMA) and the Christian Dental Association (CDA). CMDA provides resources, networking opportunities, education and a public voice for Christian healthcare professionals and students.