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Helping patients quit tobacco

West Virginia University treatment training program receives accreditation

October 24, 2017

By Kimber Solana

Clinic work: Dr. Susan Morgan (left) collaborates with West Virginia University School of Dentistry students Mannhu Iglesias and Andrew Marra after a morning of work in the student clinic. Dr. Morgan will lead the School of Dentistry and Office of Interprofessional Education tobacco treatment specialist training program.
Morgantown, W.V. — It was 1999 when Dr. Susan Morgan read a study in the Journal of the American Dental Association where about 59 percent of patients surveyed said that dental professionals should offer tobacco cessation services.

In that same study, she added, 61.5 percent of dentists thought patients did not expect such services.
"There was a disconnect," said Dr. Morgan, clinical professor at the West Virginia University School of Dentistry.
That study, she said, inspired the creation of the school's tobacco treatment training program. The program's goal: to help dental students, dentists and other health care providers help their patients quit using tobacco, in a state where West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources say more than 4,240 people died between 2009 and 2013 due to diseases and complications developed from smoking.
"The number one risk factor for periodontal disease is smoking, and tobacco is the number one link to oral cancer," said Dr. Morgan, who has been working since 2000 to prepare dentists to help patients end dependency on nicotine.
The West Virginia University dental school announced Oct. 6 — 17 years after the program began — that it is now one of 18 education and health institutions to receive accreditation from the Council for Tobacco Treatment Training Programs to implement a certified, multi-faceted program to stop tobacco use and reduce instances of oral cancer.
Working in cooperation with the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center Office of Interprofessional Education, the WVU tobacco treatment training program also involves faculty, staff and students from West Virginia University's Schools of Pharmacy, Public Health, Nursing and Medicine. Others involved in the training program include those from the School of Social Work, Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute and the Cancer Institute.
"We're a small rural state, with high tobacco use rates," Dr. Morgan said. "We're never going to be able to compete with the advertising of the tobacco industry. Where we can compete is when health care providers work together as a group to address the problem."
As dentists, she said, the training program teaches dental students and professionals better ways to approach their patients regarding reducing their tobacco use or how to quit.
"Dentists don't always know how to approach someone who wants to quit," she said. "This program is designed to show how they can do that. It gives the provider more confidence when working with the patient."
For example, a dentist can reiterate that the patient may have mentioned that he or she had interest in quitting smoking.
"The dentist can ask, 'On a scale of one to 10, can you tell me how important it is for you to quit?'" Dr. Morgan said. "Have the patient share his or her reason and personalize it. From there, you can lead and help them."
Part of the training program also includes addressing U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved medications that can help patients quit tobacco use.
"The program teaches participants evidence-based means of treatment that are known to work," Dr. Morgan said.
In 2016, according to the United Health Foundation's America's Health Rankings annual report, more than a quarter of West Virginia's adults — 25.7 percent — smoke, ranking the state 49th in the country. With those numbers, the West Virginia Dental Association can only applaud the training program's potential for helping patients quit tobacco use.
"It's been a stigma that as a state we've been saddled with for a number of years," said Richard Stevens, WVDA executive director. "We've taken steps to encourage our residents to avoid the use of tobacco, so we are supportive of the work our dental school is doing."

ADA supports public policies to prevent tobacco use and urges its members to become fully informed about tobacco use prevention and cessation. For more information about the ADA’s involvement in tobacco issues, visit