Academic journal article Generations

Building the Ideal Interdisciplinary Team to Address Oral Health

Academic journal article Generations

Building the Ideal Interdisciplinary Team to Address Oral Health

Article excerpt

As stated in Healthy People 2000, .. having adequate access to medical and dental care can reduce morbidity and mortality, preserve function and enhance overall quality of life" (National Center for Health Statistics, 2001). Ensuring that older adults receive routine oral healthcare is critical, as oral health is integral to general health and well-being. Good oral health allows people to eat and drink, maintain proper nutrition, be free from oral pain and discomfort, smile, enjoy overall health and interpersonal relationships, and maintain quality of life. More importantly, poor oral health has been associated with many systemic conditions, and can lead to increased general health risks (Ettinger, 1997; Berkey and Burg, 2001).

Close Connection: Healthcare Providers and Oral Health Providers

As overall health is inextricably connected to oral health, healthcare providers must be similarly connected to oral healthcare professionals to ensure they provide quality healthcare. Many systemic conditions such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, Sjögren's syndrome, and osteoporosis have important oral symptoms, manifestations, and complications. Similarly, periodontal diseases are associated with cardiovascular disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, diabetes, and other systemic conditions commonly found in older adults. Unfortunately, many health professionals and older adults are not aware of these relationships. For this and many other reasons, general health problems are consistently given a higher priority than oral health problems when it comes to seeking care (see Erickson's article on page 25).

To ensure older adults can access and receive comprehensive care, oral health must be integrated into the healthcare system. The role of interdisciplinary collaboration is key to basic and clinical oral health; unfortunately, health professionals rarely seek to collaborate with oral health professionals. Geriatric healthcare providers often are described as the first group to provide interdisciplinary or interprofessional care; however, such collaboration is not available to many older adults. This situation is likely to become more challenging as the need for geriatric healthcare providers increases, because an increasing number of physicians lack the desire to provide primary care and geriatric medicine. Other health professionals trained in geriatrics, such as geriatric nurse practitioners and physician assistants, psychologists, pharmacologists, and others, are assisting with this service gap; however, studies have documented an anticipated lack of adequately trained healthcare providers for aging adults (Bardach and Rowles, 2012).

Interdisciplinary Healthcare Teams Reduce Fragmentation

For many years, leaders in education and healthcare policy have recommended interdisciplinary training and collaboration among medicine, dentistry, and other health professions; yet progress has been slow in developing demonstration projects and implementing best practices for successful programs (Pyle and Stoller, 2003). In 2002, the Institute of Medicine identified five competencies (i.e., provide patient-centered care; work in interdisciplinary teams; employ evidence-based practice; apply quality improvement; and utilize informatics) for all health professions education, stating, "Competencies are the habitual and judicious use of communication, knowledge, technical skills, values, and reflection in daily practice" (Greiner and Knebel, 2002).

Increasingly, associations of oral-systemic health interactions highlight the need for interdisciplinary training to enhance health professionals' ability to treat the ever-growing population of older adults. With more medically complex patients and limited oral health information in medical education, there is a critical need for new initiatives to redesign health professionals' curricula. Resources for interdisciplinary team training in geriatrics include the Veterans Administration's (VA) Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Centers, and The John A. …

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