In this country we have health care providers and we have dentists. The best dentists understand that oral health is a huge part of our overall health. And now medical professionals are coming on board too and are beginning to understand that connection.
The idea of breaking down the barriers between dental practices and primary care practices is being studied in the Boston area. Northeastern University’s School of Nursing is joining forces with the Harvard School of Dental Medicine to create an interprofessional program, which has received grant money from the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The training program not only will increase the education and knowledge of the professionals who participate. Even more importantly, the program targets medically underserved populations, who have also been inconsistent in accessing dental care.
The students in this program will be learning about both dental care and primary care. They will participate in both disciplines’ clinical rotations and they will learn to coordinate care of clinical patients.
The hope is that patients who receive dental care and primary care in the same setting will have improved outcomes. A dental patient, for instance, who is suffering from severe periodontitis would automatically be evaluated by the nursing staff for other disease conditions that can be caused by this condition. On the other hand, a primary care visit would also include questions about eating and about the condition of a patient’s teeth so that dental issues are addressed in a timely manner.
The combined practice could prove to be particularly helpful in dealing with older adults with chronic diseases, particularly those who have diabetes.
This approach may not work for everybody, but could be quite effective in improving health outcomes for the targeted population.
In addition, it may shed light on ways that doctors and dentists can work together in referring to one another and in treating patients with chronic or complicated disease processes.