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Louisville students learn to manage oral-systemic problems as team

Louisville, Ky.—Interdisciplinary team-building is underway at the University of Louisville.

A new educational initiative will have nursing and dental students collaborate to better identify and manage systemic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The schools of nursing and dentistry received nearly $1.1 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration in 2012 to support the project.

The shift in education reflects the work of the Interprofessional Education Collaborative, a consortium of organizations including the American Dental Education Association, American Medical Association and American Association of Colleges of Nursing, which has highlighted the need for students in health professions to become proficient collaborators so they are better prepared to practice effective team-based care.

U of L students will take combined courses to better prepare nursing students to conduct oral examinations and dental students to broaden their knowledge on how oral health is connected to overall health.

"As research continues to link oral health and general health, we understand the need for this type of education," said Dr. John Sauk, dean of U of L School of Dentistry. "Oral diseases, for example, can point to undiagnosed diabetes or poor nutrition. We know there is a correlation between a certain bacteria in the mouth and heart disease. This partnership can teach students in both disciplines how to manage oral-systemic problems."

U of L's nursing and dental schools would like to be part of a new paradigm of health care delivery, where patients can receive primary care and dental care in one stop like the model established at the New York University colleges of nursing and dentistry.

"It is not unusual for dentists to screen for highly prevalent health conditions like diabetes and heart disease," said Dr. Wendy Hupp, U of L assistant professor of oral medicine. "As the population continues to age and struggle with chronic illness, we see the need for new effective forms of health care delivery. NYU's model offers reciprocal referral and consultation opportunities between the dental clinic and the nurse practitioner-managed faculty practice."

A poll conducted of dental school patients showed that 27 percent had no primary care provider and 66 percent would seek primary care at a nurse practitioner-managed clinic if one were available. 

"If we were able to offer a nurse practitioner-managed primary care clinic here at the dental school, the benefit to patients would be profound," Dr. Hupp added.