It's the most common chronic illness among children and Americans lose millions of hours of work and school to it: dental disease. Yet it's nearly 100% preventable. How do we make sure that it's diagnosed and treated early? It turns out dentists aren't the only ones who can detect it and make sure patients - particularly children - get the treatment they need.
At the University of Colorado at Denver, where I am the interim director of the PA program, we are integrating oral health education with the Smiles for Life (http://www.niioh.org/smiles-life-curriculum) curriculum to ensure that our students receive the best, most well-rounded education. We've also begun to work closely with the dental program and its students to create a collaborative environment that will foster partnerships in the future.
In taking these steps, we are proud to be part of the national movement to eradicate dental disease. Led by the National Interprofessional Initiative on Oral Health (http://www.niioh.org/, the mission is to bring primary care clinicians and oral health providers together to reverse the nation's dental disease epidemic and the effects of poor oral health. It has gained great momentum in the last few years. The initiative invests in tools and leaders who will champion this important movement.
Here in Denver, University of Colorado PA students are a perfect example of this collaboration in action. Using Smiles for Life (funded in part by the Interprofessional Initiative), the students learn the ins and outs of oral health and how to perform basic procedures like an oral exam and fluoride varnish. Smiles for Life is designed by and for primary care clinicians to learn about and promote oral health.
We know that people, and children especially, see their primary care providers more frequently than their dentists, so this gives us a unique opportunity to ensure that each patient's entire body is being cared for. We are teaching our PA students to incorporate screening and education into primary care visits, so that patients will know to take control of their oral health and prevent dental disease in themselves and their children.
As more links between oral health and systemic disease are identified, interprofessional collaborations that can move the initiative's mission to eradicate dental disease forward are becoming increasingly important. As the students who first used Smiles for Life are graduating and moving on to careers as PAs, their positive feedback on the curriculum and how it has changed their
outlook on overall health has been remarkable. Some are the only ones in their practice who learned extensively about oral health, and others have found their simple oral examinations and prevention tips have made a tremendous difference in the lives of their patients.
It is clear that by working together, we are seeing more sustainable patient health outcomes. Our efforts help eradicate oral health disease. And we are making a difference in the lives of our patients.
Jonathan Bowser is the interim director, interim associate dean and section head for the physician assistant program at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora.