Bulletin of Dental Education

VTC Dental Hygiene Students Learn Value of Interprofessional Collaboration

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VTC LogoTo provide its students with interprofessional education while also serving the community, the Vermont Technical College (VTC) Department of Dental Hygiene added external rotations into its curriculum. The first rotation occurred two years ago at the University of Vermont (UVM) Medical Center Children’s Specialty Center. Now, once a week, four third-year dental hygiene students go to the Children’s Specialty Center to provide oral health education, risk assessment, fluoride varnish treatments and lists of participating dentists for the in-patients on the children’s floor. The students discuss with families the importance of a first dental visit six months after the eruption of the first tooth or by age 1, wiping the gums after feeding and fluoride topical and systemic supplementation where necessary, and bacterial transmission between the primary caregiver and the child. Students also speak with people with acute injury or illness, chronic disease or disability, such as cystic fibrosis, about how the myriad of medications and level of disease may impact their oral health or their ability to provide thorough home care. 

VTC PhotoThrough this experience, students learn to meet persons needing care where they are—some days are uplifting and rewarding while others are challenging and thought-provoking. Some students ask what dental hygienists can offer at a hospital since many people are not there for oral health-related diagnoses; this experience imparts to them that dental hygienists do much more than cleaning teeth—they are essential primary health care providers who specialize in oral health to help people prevent and manage disease.

Following the program’s success at the UVM Medical Center, the Northeast Delta Dental Foundation awarded the Department of Dental Hygiene a $63,000 grant for a van and mobile dental equipment for students to complete rotations at schools and other organizations. In fall 2017, VTC students began to deliver direct services at Founders Memorial Elementary School. Each week, four third-year dental hygiene students use the mobile equipment to treat a child in the school nurse’s office and provide a 30-minute classroom educational session, including a hands-on “dental plaque” experiment. In spring 2018, the second-year dental hygiene students took on this rotation, and through the use of teledentistry the department added radiographs—using a Nomad and PSP digital radiography processor—to its services. Over four months, VTC students provided dental hygiene treatment for 40 children, applied 30 fluoride varnishes, took 15 sets of pediatric bitewings and noted 20 areas of concern for which the parents were notified that treatment by a dentist was necessary. Services were either billed to Medicaid or provided free of charge. 

In addition, 430 children received dental classroom education. Next year, the department plans to incorporate the application of silver diamine fluoride into the rotation. By bringing these services to the school, many children receive care they may otherwise go without. This means less time missed from school, less dental disease and healthier children, while also preparing VTC dental hygiene students to feel comfortable stepping into an alternative practice setting to provide direct services. The department looks forward to continuing these successful partnerships. 

Submitted by Ellen B. Grimes, RDH, M.A., M.P.A., Ed.D., and Heather Blair, RDH, M.P.H., Vermont Technical College

Published on August 8, 2018

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