14:11 PM

Smiles for Life

Guest Post by Cindy Lord, Clinical Associate Professor and Director of the Physician Assistant Program at Quinnipiac University, and Oral Health Champion with the National Interprofessional Initiative on Oral Health. The activities of the National Interprofessional Initiative on Oral Health are made possible as a result of funding from The DentaQuest Foundation, the Washington Dental Service Foundation, and the Connecticut Health Foundation.

My “aha” moment came when I realized that physician assistants (PAs) and primary care providers can not only play an integral role in improving oral health, but that we have an obligation to do so. Dental disease is the most common chronic disease in children, and it presents frequently in pregnant and elderly patients, yet doctors and PAs too often look beyond the mouth to the back of the throat to see if a patient’s tonsils are red or swollen or if they have post-nasal drip.

So, how do we change this? At Quinnipiac, where I am the Director of the Physician Assistant Program, we have begun to integrate oral health into our overall PA curriculum. We know that collaboration between the medical and dental professions is crucial to the overall health of every patient, so we are working with our PA students to ensure that they have a full oral health education that they can apply to their day-to-day work with patients. We want them to be able to evaluate the full health of each patient they see, and that includes the patient’s oral health, especially if they are part of a high-risk group.

We’ve been using the Smiles for Life curriculum to seamlessly include oral health into our PA training. Our PA students in their pediatric rotation do the pediatric Smiles for Life module and PA students in their internal medicine and geriatric rotation do the internal medicine and geriatric modules. While at first we received some hesitation (“oral health is for dentists!”), today our students are thrilled to be part of this important movement to make oral health part of overall health. As part of this training, student PAs learn when to help the patients understand what they can do through education and advisory guidance and when to refer the patient to a dentist for more detailed evaluation and follow up.

As the health care system continues to evolve and change, it is our responsibility, as health care providers, to take charge of health care and use our position to encourage prevention, health literacy and the best possible overall health for all our patients.

Editor’s Note: In recognition of her work, Cindy received the Outstanding PA of the Year Award from the American Academy of Physicians Assistants. See more here: http://www.niioh.org/news.