As every dental student knows, dental caries—the demineralization of the tooth surface caused by bacteria—can be prevented if identified early and managed appropriately by an interdisciplinary health care team. But if left undiagnosed, early childhood caries could require traumatic and expensive anesthesia, plus dental fears later in life.
To help advance an interdisciplinary approach to oral health promotion, the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Washington (UW) developed an oral health elective for medical students and allied health professional students, titled “What Every Physician Should Know About Oral Health.” In spring 2005, more than 30 medical students enrolled in the first-ever oral health course offered by the UW School of Medicine.
The concept for the course grew out of a dental student’s SURF project (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) in 2003. A survey of UW medical students’ oral health knowledge and attitudes found low oral health knowledge, but positive attitudes towards the incorporation of oral health training into the medical school curriculum.
The School of Medicine responded with the creation of an Oral-Systemic Health Theme Committee. Cosponsored by the Department of Pediatric Dentistry and Family Medicine, and with additional assistance from the Department of Medical Education and Bioinformatics, and support from Washington Dental Service Foundation, an oral health elective was created, and a larger plan for oral health within the medical school curriculum was proposed
The primary goal of the course is to provide medical students with basic concepts of oral health and disease and to help them apply new scientific information about oral-systemic health links to patient care. Course topics ranged from oral cancer to dental emergencies. UW dental students shared their knowledge with medical students in clinical sessions including fluoride varnish application and performing oral exams.
This one-of-a-kind approach to oral health promotion will continue to provide opportunities for collaboration among dental and medical students during training and beyond. Ultimately, an interdisciplinary approach to preventing dental disease could result in a lifetime free of needless pain and suffering for every child.
More information about the course, including a complete list of dental student participants, dental faculty and affiliates, medical faculty, patients, and parents is available at http://courses.washington.edu/ohcourse/index.html.