11:45 AM

Celebrating Nurses' Important Work in Oral Health

As we close National Nurses Week on the May 12th birthday of Florence Nightingale, the nursing profession is proud to play an important role in building interprofessional oral health workforce capacity that increases oral health access, decreases oral health disparities, and improves oral health and overall health outcomes.nurses inspire

Inspired by others, the nursing profession came on board to pursue a national interprofessional health agenda as part of the DentaQuest Oral Health 2020 Network. Funded by DentaQuest, Washington Dental Service, and Connecticut Health Foundations, the National Interprofessional Initiative on Oral Health (NIIOH) in 2011 selected New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing to be the innovation incubator for a new Oral Health Nursing Education and Practice Program.

Our team was challenged to lead a national initiative to advance integration of oral health in nursing education and clinical practice. We aimed to influence change by providing interprofessional clinical models that linked oral health with overall health through faculty development, curriculum integration, and establishment of “best practices” in clinical settings.

Why was it important for the nursing profession to be involved in the Oral Health 2020 movement?

We are the largest of the health professions … approximately 4 million strong, including 250,000 nurse practitioners and 13,000 midwives. A Gallup Poll reports that we are also the most trusted profession!

More specifically, nurses are well positioned at the frontlines of health care to influence change in primary care and acute care settings. The confidence of DentaQuest and NIIOH in our national leadership role gave our team the freedom to create the Oral Health Nursing Education and Practice website, an interprofessional oral health knowledge hub for nursing and other professions. The website features an online oral health curriculum called Smiles for Life, case studies linking oral health with overall health, faculty oral health toolkits, webinars, publications, narrated videos, simulations, and other virtual tools.

Integrating oral health into screenings

Over the past seven years, we have trained thousands of faculty, students and clinicians to put the mouth back in the head by using the HEENOT (Head, Ears, Eyes, Nose, Oral Cavity, Throat) health screening assessment instead of the HEENT (Head, Ears, Eyes, Nose, Throat) approach (Haber et al, 2015) and the Qualis Oral Health Delivery Framework (2015), and influenced curriculum change, using oral-systemic health as a clinical exemplar for operationalizing the IPEC Competencies (2016) by bringing interprofessional teams of faculty and students together to learn from, with and about each other.

The DentaQuest Foundation has been an amazing partner. Just recently, our grant funding enabled OHNEP to sponsor a breakfast symposium at the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties. Armed with 800 toothbrushes generously contributed by DentaQuest, we shared the findings of a national nurse practitioner survey with hundreds of nurse practitioner faculty. Led by the Center for Integration of Primary Care and Oral Health, a partnership of Harvard School of Dental Medicine and the University of Massachusetts’ School of Medicine, the survey demonstrates the remarkable progress made in oral health integration in seven years (Dolce, Haber et al., in press).

The impact of this work is felt in all 50 states. Still, there is much more work to be done to reach the DentaQuest and OHNEP aim of oral health for all!


Judith HaberGuest Author

Judith Haber, PhD, APRN, FAAN
The Ursula Springer Leadership Professor in Nursing
Executive Director, Oral Health Nursing Education and Practice (OHNEP) Program
DentaQuest 2017 Health Equity Hero



  • Interprofessional Education Collaborative Expert Panel. Core competencies for interprofessional collaborative practice. 2016. At: www.aacn.nche.edu/education-resources/ipecreport.pdf.
  • Haber, J.et al. Putting the mouth back in the head: HEENT to HEENOT. Am J Public Health 2015;105(3):437–447.
  • Clarke. M. et al. Smiles for life: a national oral health curriculum. 3rd ed. Society of Teachers of Family Medicine. 2010. At: www.smilesforlifeor-alhealth.com.
  • Hummel, J. et al., Oral health: An essential component of primary care. Seattle, WA, Qualis Health. 2015.
  • Dolce, M., Haber, J. et al. Integrating oral health curricula into nurse practitioner graduate programs; Results of a U.S. survey. Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. (in press).