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Innovation Spotlight: Encouraging medical colleagues

Dentist asks physicians to conduct quick oral exam

February 02, 2015

By Kelly Soderlund

Editor's note: This is the second installment of an ongoing series, Innovation Spotlight, featuring dentists who are using innovative ways to change their dental practice. A 2013 environmental scan of the dental industry showed Americans have been visiting the dentist less frequently and spending less money on their oral health, pushing the profession into a new normal when it comes to U.S. dental spending, according to the ADA Health Policy Institute. The ADA News will spotlight dentists who are adjusting to this new normal and finding ways to prepare their practices and themselves for the future.

Cary, N.C. — Dr. Raymond Tseng has brokered a deal with the pediatricians and physician assistants in his area: you keep an eye out for cavities and we'll keep an eye on your patients' weight.

It's a little more complicated than that, but the premise is simple: children's overall health will be better if more health care professionals are looking out for symptoms of larger problems like caries or obesity. In Cary, Dr. Tseng has reached out to six large group practices of pediatric medical providers to educate them on oral health and what they can look for during a quick peek inside a patient's mouth.

"When you look at conditions that afflict children these days, such as diabetes and obesity, some of the underlying causes also affect oral health," Dr. Tseng said. "It's natural that dentists who treat children should have a strong relationship with our medical colleagues."

Dr. Tseng
He's taken it a step further and educated students studying to be physician assistants at Campbell University in Buies Creek and Methodist University in Fayetteville, and he will start lecturing at Duke University in Durham. As an adjunct assistant professor in the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's department of pediatric dentistry, Dr. Tseng, 37, has guest lectured about the importance of screening for caries, held clinical labs to teach the students how to apply fluoride varnish and hosted them at his practice so they could see what a pediatric dentist does.

"A lot of North Carolina is rural, with patients seeing a physician assistant in lieu of an available doctor," said Dr. Tseng, who has a Ph.D. in oral biology — one of the first graduates of the combined D.D.S. and Ph.D. program at the Ohio State University College of Dentistry. "It's important to educate these students while they're in school so they get into the mindset of checking their pediatric patients' teeth during routine exams. It's more beneficial to get the students when they're young and have them grow with these ideas in their training so that when they are in the professional world, they'll remember and put it into practice."

In return, Dr. Tseng measures the body mass index percentiles of the children he sees.

"We have cavities. That's our big thing. We want pediatricians and physician assistants to look for early signs of caries and let us know," Dr. Tseng said. "In return, we screen for children who are overweight or obese. When we find something that's concerning, we take it as a warning sign and alert the child's pediatrician and talk to their parents about why it's important to pay attention to nutrition and their child's weight."

Dr. Tseng will refer a child to a medical physician if their BMI percentile is over 85. He also receives referrals from doctors who notice decay in their patients' teeth, thus increasing his patient base.  

Dr. Tseng is also passionate about pediatric dentistry within organized dentistry. He chairs the North Carolina Dental Society's Committee on Children's Oral Health Programs, which oversees all N.C. Give Kids A Smile programs. He also organizes his own local event, which he said looks more like a health fair. Dentistry is the focal point but the children visit six different stations, where they learn about obesity prevention, staying active, nutrition and how eating healthy not only affects their body but their teeth.

"The overarching goal in how we do our GKAS events, how we talk to physician assistant students and how we talk to pediatricians is that we want to emphasize that medicine and dentistry go hand in hand," Dr. Tseng said. "They don't have to be experts in it, they just have to know that something's not right."